FINDING MY PLACE IN THE WORLD

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

NAMES PEOPLE SAY LIKE GAMES PEOPLE PLAY

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

desirable,

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?

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

IN THE KITCHEN

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

THE YEAR OF NO CHRISTMAS COOKIES

NO CHRISTMAS COOKIES THAT YEAR!

  By the time my first son, Michael, was five and his brother Steve was two, we were living in a rented house in North Hollywood and it was while we were living atthat house on Kittridge street that I began collecting cookbooks—and was really into cookie baking by that time. I had acquired a lot of Wilton decorating tips and began learning how to make little flowers, like violets, with royal frosting, to put on cookies. Just before Christmas in 1965, I embarked on asugar cookie baking marathon. I planned to give cookies to friends as well ascoworkers at Weber Aircraft where both Jim and I were employed.  After hundreds of sugar cookies were baked and cooled, I began frosting them, one night, like an assembly-line, coveringall the table and counter tops with trays of frosted cookies.  When at last the cookies were all decoratedwith butter cream frosting, I left them out to dry overnight. I collapsed in bed around 3 am.

The next day, I got up to discover that Michael had eaten the frosting off of everysingle cookie.  Every – single –cookie.  Needless to say, no one receivedgift tins of cookies from the Smiths that year. To add insult to injury, Michael didn’t even get a tummy ache from all that sugar.  So, even though I may not beable to describe the many different cookies I made for most Christmasses overthe past 50 years, I can certainly tell you the story of the year no one received cookies from us.

In a homemade recipe journal I found in a used book store in the mid-60s, I was impressed with the author’s lists – lists of guests for parties, lists of everything that had been served – and lists of the cookies and confections she cooked and baked to give to friends for the holidays. So, I began keeping lists also. I’ve kept a Christmas notebook for years—it helps me remember who received what so that I don’t give that person the same thing two years in a row.  So for whatever it’s worth- here is a list of my Christmas cookies for 1981:

Chocolate chip

Chocolate cut out

Butter cut out

Mexican wedding cakes

Lebkuchen  

Oatmeal ice box

1 dough 8 ways *bon bons

Peanut blossoms

Rum raisins

Butter pecan

Gingerbread boys

Almond icebox slices

Sun giant raisin

Cinnamon stars

Spritz

Truffles, 2 kinds

Sugared almonds

Mint walnuts

Candy pecans

Pralines

Peanut butter balls

Texas fruit cake

Madelines

What this list tells me is that not much has changed in thirty years. Many of these recipes are the same ones I’m still baking! And the mint walnuts became afavorite when my penpal in Oregon sent me small bottles of mint oil, from their mint crop. (although any kind of mint oil will work). Those are really not a“cookie” but what you might call a confection.

–SandraLee Smith  

UPDATED 12-9-18

CHRISTMAS IS COMING AND THE GOOSE IS GETTING FAT

Christmas is on the horizon (you may not want to think so, since Thanksgiving leftovers are still in the frig) but our household gears up for Christmas by September—at least it did for decades; I have begun to stock up on dried fruit–and there are so many more to choose from these days; pineapple and mango and cherries and ginger–many ingredients which will make a fantastic fruitcake, even if you think you don’t really like fruitcake.

Cookbookauthor Edna Lewis recalled Christmas in Freetown, writing, “When I was a girl growing up in a small farming community of Freetown, Virginia, preparations for Christmas started in early September, when we children went out to gather black walnuts, hickory nuts, and hazelnuts….Whenever she saw a break of a day or two from the September harvest, Mother would set about making the fruitcake. It wasa family affair that my older sister and I cheerfully participated in….”  I know I get my pecans and walnuts from asupermarket, but in my heart I am gathering black walnuts and hickory nutssomewhere      in the south.

Istock up on sugar and flour, watching for sales, and begin digging through myrecipe files for all the favorite cookie recipes. I have four sons and sixgrandchildren and they all have different favorites. All of my friends beg for their favorites. We bake a lot of cookies starting in October. I also spend time making and decorating cookieswith my grandchildren and my sister’s three children. This is something theyall love to do.

 You can make almost any cookie dough ahead of time and pack it in portions in the freezer–but you can also bakecookies in advance, if you want, and freeze them too.

Since our freezer is usually packed, I find it easier to freeze the cookie dough and then go on a baking binge with whoever wants to help.

We’ve already been canning little jars of jams and jellies, preserves and fruit butters –

Much of which comes from our own trees and vines as well as those on my sister’s fruite trees, and these are earmarked as gifts for various friends and former co-workers. There was a time when I gave everyone in the office where I worked a jar of jelly for Christmas. There wereless than 50 employees in the office at that time. Now there are over 200. Ibegan limiting the gift-giving of jellies to my own department before I finally retired.

It’s almost as much fun going through my recipe collections and all of the Christmascookbooks, looking for different holiday cookie or candy recipes to try.Sometimes they’re winners, sometimes not – but it’s always enjoyable,experimenting and trying something new. The reward is when someone asks for the recipe!  —

Sandra Lee Smith, Updated December 8 , 2018

I have to admit, my techniques for baking and candy-making has changed considerably since I first started making cookies in my own kitchen in 1958. In fact, one of the first pamphlets I obtained that December is a now-tattered 4-page booklet titled “From our Kitchen to Yours  – 66 Wonderful Ways  to capture the warmth and Joy of an old-fashioned Christmas, BETTY CROCKER’S HOLIDAY ALMANAC, 1958, with many of the sweet treats made from products no longer available, such as Betty Crocker’s Meringue Mix to make kisses, or creamy fudge made with Betty Crocker Chocolate Fudge Frosting Mix. This was long before you could buy so many different ready-made frostings in a tub.  Betty Crocker has changed a great deal in 50 years but so have we.

And I don’t mind confessing that many of my cut-out sugar cookies started out with rolls of refrigerated cookie dough that can be tinkered with to make many different types of cookies.  In fact, you can buy cookbooks totally dedicated to showing you how to make dozens of cut-out, bar, and drop cookies – with refrigerated cookie dough.  I have to say, though – I never use ready-made frostings or icings of any kind; those are all made from scratch. This is just a personal preference and I make a really decadent deep chocolate frosting.

We’ll be ready for Christmas 2018 although as I sit in front of a fan trying to stay cool, it’s hard to imagine Southern California cooling off enough by December!

And no, we won’t be having goose. Prime rib or pork roast, most likely.

Sandra Lee Smith

Updated December 8 , 2018