Monthly Archives: December 2009



My grandmother gave us all comfort
In the form of homemade noodle soups
And goulashes and stews,
And on a cold winter night
If you were spending the night with grandma
She would make hot tea
With lemon and honey,
And bring out butter and saltine crackers.
It was a comfort food that has stayed with me
Throughout my life
And when I am feeling low or unwell
I know it’s time for hot tea
With lemon and honey
And some buttered saltine crackers.
Food, I realize,
Was a form of comfort from my grandmother
And I have followed in her footsteps,
Patterning my gift of comfort
From what is in the kitchen –
Soups and stews and chowders,
But especially hot tea
With honey and lemon
And those buttered saltine crackers.
How we give comfort
And how we receive it
Can take many different forms
But for me
It starts in the kitchen.
— Sandra Lee Smith

Comfort foods! Everyone has their own favorites and oftentimes for different reasons. Consequently, my comfort food of saltine crackers with hot tea and lemon and honey may not be the same as your comfort foods. And the idea of comfort foods must appeal to the masses because there are now numerous cookbooks on the subject. (I was inspired to write this because a cookbook titled “The Farmer’s Wife Comfort Food Cookbook” arrived in the mail from my brother, Bill, yesterday).

Chocolate pudding, tapioca or bread pudding are usually at the top of a comfort list. Bread pudding was one of the few desserts we grew up on, although we might have it just as easily for breakfast as we did for dessert. Dessert just wasn’t part of the menu in my mother’s kitchen, except for occasions like Christmas or Thanksgiving.

It’s easy to understand how bread pudding managed to make it to the table. We always had bread; my mother baked bread twice a week in large roasting pans. We seldom had “store bought bread” in the house until much later, after my mother began working. (My sister recalls that we had the only mother in the neighborhood who worked full time—mind you, this was a time, in the 1940s and 1950s, when most mothers stayed at home).

I don’t think my mother had a recipe for making bread pudding although it’s entirely possible that she may have followed the recipe for Bread Puff Pudding that I found in her Ida Bailey Allen Service Cookbook. The recipe is a simple combination of milk, bread crumbs, a bit of butter, a little sugar, vanilla, and a couple of eggs. These would have been ingredients on hand in my mother’s kitchen. Mom’s bread pudding usually contained raisins, too.

I began thinking about bread pudding after the time my daughter in law had surgery on her throat and requested that, and tapioca pudding while she recuperated, so I began searching through my files for recipes. One of the recipes sounded good that I decided to make it. Well, I want you to know, it was a great bread pudding—I did have to sample it, of course!

Bread pudding seems to be one of those dessert dishes that have almost disappeared from today’s menus. Why do you suppose this is? Have we all become so busy that the only kind of puddings we make anymore are of the instant packaged variety that require only the addition of milk—or, equally tasteless — a pre-made item that you pick up in the dairy section of the supermarket, which only requires peeling off a foil cover?

Here is the recipe I found in an old newspaper article.

¼ lb (1 stick) unsalted butter (should be softened, room temperature)
1 cup sugar
2 (12 oz) cans evaporated milk (undiluted)
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
7 slices stale white sandwich bread, toasted
½ cup seedless raisins or dried cranberries

Place butter and sugar in large bowl of electric mixer and beat on medium speed until mix is well creamed, about 5 minutes. Add milk, eggs, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, cream of tartar and ginger. Beat on low speed until well-blended, about 3 minutes.

Break toasted bread into small pieces and arrange in even layer in bottom of an ungreased 8×8” baking pan. Sprinkle on raisins. Pour milk mixture over the bread and let it stand for about 1 hour, occasionally patting down any bread that floats to the top.

Bake 450 degrees 20-25 minutes or until top is very well browned and mixture shakes like a bowl of jelly when pan is shaken. Remove from oven and let stand 15 minutes before serving. Makes 8-10 servings

Note: raisins, roasted pecans or other nuts or coconut can be added to recipe; I’ve discovered that dried blueberries are also a nice addition.

When it comes to making tapioca pudding, I simply follow the recipe on the box of Minute Tapioca. I have been making tapioca pudding since I was eight or nine years old. You want to know what else is easy to make and so delicious you will never buy a pre-made version or an instant version in a box again? Chocolate pudding! Well, I have spent the afternoon trying to find my favorite chocolate pudding recipe—this is the closest thing to it that I can find:

To make chocolate pudding you will need:

½ cup granulated sugar
3 TBSP unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ cup cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
2 ¾ cup milk (I like using a combination of evaporated milk & water to equal 2 ¾ cups)
2 TBSP butter
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine dry ingredients in a sauce pan; place over medium heat and stir in milk. Whisk to remove any lumps. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens. Remove from heat; stir in butter and vanilla. Let cool a few minutes and then pour into dessert dishes; chill in refrigerator until ready to serve.

I think the original recipe was in an Argo cornstarch cookbooklet (I can’t swear to it – so many of my cookbooks are still packed in boxes and it’s on days like this, when I am trying to share something – that I miss being able to easily go to a bookshelf and find what I am looking for. My Bad!)

Rice pudding is another one of those old-tried-and-true comfort food recipes that traces its origins back to during the Great Depression when every little scrap of everything was eaten – or used in another recipe. Sometimes we had leftover rice (no wonder! My mother’s rice was like library paste. My brother Billy says he liked mom’s rice. Pul-EEESE! No one could have liked mom’s library paste rice. But then, I think Billy liked to eat library paste, too).

And, not to change the subject – but I have to tell this story: My mother saved every teaspoon or tablespoon of leftovers. She’d put the bits of leftovers in small dishes and into the refrigerator they all went. I devised a game that I played with my two younger brothers, whom I was in charge of on summer days while our parents were at work. We played “RESTAURANT”. I made up a menu based on whatever leftovers were in the refrigerator. My brothers sat at the table and ordered. I reheated what they ordered. Ok, it does sound simplistic. What can I tell you? It was the 40s and we didn’t have a TV yet.

Getting back to rice pudding—most of the recipes I’ve come across want you to start out with uncooked rice—well, how challenging is that? Rice pudding ought to be made from some leftover rice. Actually, you could do this easily without a recipe per se; just mix the rice, evaporated milk, some eggs, a few raisins, a bit of cinnamon and vanilla – together and let it cook a bit, then pour it into dessert dishes. But if you are a stickler for exact ingredients…I did some searching today and dug out my mother’s one and only cookbook, the Ida Bailey Allen Service Cookbook which was published for Woolworth’s back in the day and sold for about a dollar. This is the closest thing I could find that matches my mother’s rice pudding made with cooked rice. To make mom’s rice pudding you will need:

¾ cup honey*
2 ½ cups cooked rice
½ cup raisins
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 TBSP butter
½ tsp cinnamon

Heat the honey in a heavy frying pan until brown, being careful not to burn it. Combine with the cooked rice, raisins and lemon juice; and transfer to a shallow greased pudding dish. Dot the top with butter and bake in a moderate (350 degree) oven until golden. Serve warm, sprinkled with cinnamon. (*if I’m not mistaken, honey was one of those things not rationed during the war—so it was readily available).

I don’t remember ever having this as a dessert. Sometimes we ate it for breakfast. There were five of us and a war was raging in Europe. We’d eat anything. Unless, of course, it was something you absolutely despised such as my mother’s hasenpheffer stew, made with wild rabbit my father had shot and killed and brought home to be cooked. But that’s another story).

One of my favorite comfort foods to this day is actually based on one of mom’s Friday night suppers. We often had salmon patties, macaroni and cheese, and spinach with a sliced hard boiled egg on top. I’m still baffled that my mother could take a 15 ounce can of salmon and make enough patties to feed 7 people. Sometimes it wasn’t macaroni & cheese but rather, macaroni & tomato – both of which I still like, to this day. But I make salmon patties with TWO large cans of salmon and I make BIG patties so that we can have leftover salmon patties on rye bread with tartar sauce (hey! Don’t knock if you haven’t tried it!). This reminds me of a story.

Back in the 1980s, Bob & I took a trip up the coast in our little Chinook camper. We were heading for Point Arena one night when heavy fog rolled in. We made it to the campground long after dark and I proceeded to make salmon patties and mac & cheese on our little Coleman stove. Midway, we ran out of propane. The salmon patties – and the macaroni and cheese were – to say the least – al dente. But to this day Bob will always say “This is good, but you know what was really great? Thos salmon patties and the macaroni and cheese we had at Point Arena”. Ok, so you had to be there.

To make MY salmon patties you will need

2 large cans of pink salmon, drained and deboned
1 sleeve of saltine crackers, crushed fine
1 large onion chopped fine OR – use dried onion and rehydrate them with some of the liquid from the salmon
salt & white pepper
dried dill (ok, fresh if you have it but if you are out camping, chances are you will be lucky to have DRIED dill in the RV with you)

Mix it all together and shape into big hamburger size patties. Cook in a large skillet that has been sprayed with Pam. Turn over once while cooking. ** Ok, Bob this comfort food is for you. It won’t be quite as good as the ones in Point Arena but then…aren’t comfort foods as much about the time and place as it is about the food itself?

Christmas 2009 – Trees, Trees…

Cardinal tree 2009

close up one of the kitchen trees

close up kitchen ornaments

kitchen theme tree 2

kitchen tree up close

living room, Christmas 2009

Christmas 2009 Photos – Sandy, Bob & Grandchildren

Christmas 2009 Photos – Savannah

Savanah making cookie trees

Savannah decorating cookies

Christmas 2009 Cookies

Click on the photo to view them better! Yummy!

CLIPPING COUPONS (The good, the bad, & the ugly)

This afternoon, while sorting through coupons in my coupon box (yes, a real box with compartments that Bob made for me) and removing the ones that will expire in a couple of days, I began to reflect on the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of coupon clipping.

Clip, clip. The good part is being able to use a lot of coupons when you go grocery shopping – or any kind of shopping these days. Michaels and Joann’s offer new coupons every week. Kohls and Sears and Penny’s had coupons in the newspaper every week as the holidays approached. Some, like the ones for Kohl’s, were really hot – $10 off on a $20 purchase? Works for me!

Clip, Clip. Sometimes I used them and sometimes not – only because I didn’t always get to those stores. My daughter in law was going shopping to Bed, Bath & Beyond one night – and had lost a good $10 off coupon for that store. Wait, I said. I think I might have one in my purse. I did. She was a happy camper. You can really save a lot using coupons. That’s the good part. And when I was getting doubles on all my coupons – even better. On a good grocery shopping day I might get about 50% off using coupons. Ok, so I’m not the coupon queen who gets her name and picture in women’s magazines once a year because she buys $200 in groceries and pays only, like, fifty cents when the cashier gets finished deducting her coupons—but there are only two of us at home anymore and we are on a fixed retiree income – so saving as much as possible is important to me.

Clip, clip. When my children were growing up – and we bought a lot more groceries – I was a coupon fanatic. I also did a lot of refunding (you send proofs of purchases and a form to the manufacturer, in return for which you would either receive a cash refund – or a coupon for a free product—sometimes there were even great free gift premiums. My son Steve reminded me recently of the time I got a bunch of free basketballs and gave them to all the boys on my Christmas list that year.

The trick was saving up a whole bunch of those free product coupons and using them in one fell swoop, like – say – at Thanksgiving time when you could get a free turkey for spending over $100. I was really big on refunding for many years. I do very little refunding nowadays – for one thing, manufacturers have made it increasingly more difficult – most want the original sales receipt with your proofs of purchase and if you have more than one item offering a refund that is on the same grocery list, you’re sunk.

Clip, clip. And that brings me to the BAD about coupon clipping (and/or refunding). You can often find very good coupons for a new product – either $1 or $2 off the purchase, or – even better – the coupon is good for a free can, box, bottle, jar, package – of whatever they are trying to get you to buy. The PROBLEM IS, good luck if you can FIND that product before the coupon expires. I rarely find the product before the expiration date on the coupon. Oh, yes! It will eventually turn up in the stores weeks later. You know what I really miss? Coupons with no expiration date! If the manufacturers are sincere in their quest to get you to buy their products – why issue coupons with a very limited life span of a month or two? Why not issue coupons with NO EXPIRATION DATES! (what a concept!) (I could tell those company marketers a thing or two!)

Clip, clip. Another thing that irks the heck out of me is the coupons published weekly for local chain drug stores. I can knock myself out spending an hour in the store trying to find the very exact product for the coupon (and usually can’t find the products at all) – but when I do, I end up in a checkout line being told by the cashier “This is the wrong _____ (fill in the blank).” A cashier told me I didn’t know how to use the coupons. I guess not. I’ve only been shopping with coupons for fifty years. Give me another fifty, maybe I’ll figure it out. (I told the cashier – theirs is the only chain drug store that I run into this difficulty with. My solution? Easy! I don’t shop there anymore!

Clip, clip. There are times when I want to sit down and write to all of the food manufacturers and tell them – if you are going to publish coupons and you want customers to use them, don’t make it a pain in the behind to find your products on the store shelves. And if you have a good promotion going, the shelves shouldn’t be empty before noon on the first day of the sale (actually happened to me recently). AND the sale item shouldn’t be on a bottom shelf in a hard to reach spot – not good for those of us who are handicapped.

Clip, clip. Well, I guess the bad and the ugly are pretty much the same. I go to a lot of work clipping, filing and – then using – coupons. What I don’t need is a suspicious cashier who doubts that I bought this product or that one and they end up digging through the already bagged groceries to verify my purchase. There was a drug store (which shall remain nameless although they have been bought out by another company) whose cashiers were suspicious of all coupons. It got so bad, I just stopped shopping there.
Mind you, I was buying the product and I had a coupon. You would have thought it was coming out of the cashier’s pocket. (Admittedly, with everything bar-coded these days, it’s generally not difficult for the cashiers to swipe the coupon – their computer system chirps if there is a problem. On the other hand, sometimes the computer system chirps even when you HAVE bought the right product! –and sometimes the store’s computer system hasn’t been updated to reflect the current sale prices. Oh. Well, that’s another issue.

Clip, clip.


You may not want to face this, but in 10 more days a new year will be here!
So, are you interested in some good luck foods to celebrate the New Year?

“What foods are prepared on New Year’s Day in the USA to bring good luck? That depends upon the culture and cuisine! As New Year’s Day approaches, people around the world will plan for the coming year, eager to get off to the best possible start! Many people will “eat for luck”-they plan to eat special foods that, by tradition, are supposed to bring them good luck. Throughout history, people have eaten certain foods on New Year’s Day, hoping to gain riches, love, or other kinds of good fortune during the rest of the year…” from “Eat for Luck!,” by Victoria Sherrow & David Helton, Children’s Digest, Jan/Feb94

When I was a child growing up in predominately German Cincinnati, it was customary to have sauerkraut on New Year’s Eve. My mother cooked it with some kind of pork, and made mashed potatoes and creamed peas to ‘go with’ and served it at midnight. (I shudder to think of eating such a heavy meal at midnight today! My stomach would never take it). But my parents often had a New Year’s Eve party and that was the menu. I remember one year, I was babysitting for neighbors on Pulte Street when, at midnight, my brother Jim brought me a plate of sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and peas. I cried into the mashed potatoes thinking of the party I was missing. I never stopped to wonder why we had sauerkraut and pork on New Year’s Eve – it was a tradition in our family.
Someone inquired on Google about eating sauerkraut and this response was posted: ”Everyone I know says it’s for “good luck,” but no one can tell me with certainty where this custom started. It appears to be a German or a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition that has migrated to other portions of American culture, but down South other practices prevail: there, New Year’s Day calls for black-eyed peas — particularly a dish called Hoppin’ John, with seasonings and rice — and collard greens…”

When we were living in Florida for a few years, I became friends with a woman whose family was from Puerto Rico. They invited us to join them for a New Year’s day dinner which was made up of black beans and rice; that was their customary New Year’s meal. It was my introduction to Hoppin’ John. This legendary New Year’s dish is a casserole of rice and black-eyed peas, sometimes flavored with pork. It is thought to have been introduced to the South by African slaves. The dish was traditionally served with a shiny dime buried deep. The person whose portion had the coin was guaranteed good luck in the New Year (I guess as long as you didn’t swallow the dime–that wouldn’t be very lucky!).
To give you some idea of how people celebrate the New Year in various parts of the world, Romans, in ancient times, gave gifts of nuts, dates, figs, and round cakes. Northern Italians attempt to attract wealth at the New Year by eating lentils, symbolizing coins. In the Piedmont region of Italy, the New Year’s Day meal of risotto signifies wealth with its abundance of small grains. Another Italian custom is to eat sweets for a year of good luck. It can be as simple as a raisin or a more elaborate, almond-filled cake in the shape of a snake. As a snake sheds its old skin and leaves it behind, this cake symbolizes leaving the past behind as a new year begins. In Spain, you are promised good luck in the New Year if, at midnight, you eat one grape with each stroke of the clock. Dumplings are a traditional New Year’s food in northern China. Because they look like nuggets of gold, they are thought to signal good fortune. The Vietnamese celebrate their new year in late January and eat carp – a round-bodied fish thought to carry the god of good luck on its back. Cambodians celebrate their new year in April by eating sticky rice cakes made with sweet beans .In Iran, the New Year is celebrated in March, when grains of wheat and barley are sprouted in water to symbolize new life. Coins and colored eggs are placed on the table, which is set for a special meal of seven foods that begin with the letter “s”.
In some countries, cakes and cookies were traditionally served on New Year’s Day for many decades (Are these customs still observed? I don’t know). Donna R. Barnes and Peter G. Rose coauthors of “Matters of Taste: Food and Drink in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art and Life” (Syracuse University Press) have written: “New Year’s Eve was especially noisy, with the firing of guns to bring in the New Year. Ordinances in both the Netherlands and New Netherlands eventually prohibited such behavior. The special treat for New Year’s Day in the Netherlands were thick crisp waters, which originated in the eastern part of the country and adjoining parts of Germany. These wafers were made in a special wafer iron. The oblong or round long-handleed irons, made by blacksmiths, created imprints of a religious or secular nature on the wafers. Wafer irons were often given as a wedding gift, even in this country. Enormous quantities of wafers were prepared on New Year’s Day. The were consumed by family, servants, and guests distributed to children, who went from house to house singing New Year songs, while collecting their share of treats along the way. There is ample evidence in diaries and letters that Dutch Americans continued the custom of visiting each other on New Year’s Day. In New Netherlands…cookies were molded in wooden cake-boards, instead of wafer irons…The American New Year’s cake is a combination of two Dutch pastries brought here by the early settlers, the cookies described above and spiced, chewy, honey cakes formed in a wooden mold or cake-board. It was in the late eighteenth century that this homemade pastry prepared in heirloom wafer irons by the Dutch, changed to a mostly store-bought product purchased by the population at large….”

And, in the American Heritage Cookbook and Illustrated History of American Eating & Drinking, (American Heritage, 1964), I found the following: “The custom of paying New Year’s calls originated in New York, where the Dutch held open house on New Year’s Day and served cherry bounce, olykoeks [doughnuts] steeped in rum, cookies, and honey cakes. From New York the custom spread throughout the country. On the first New Year’s after his inauguration, George Washington opened his house to the public, and he continued to receive visitors on New Year’s Day throughout the seven years he lived in Phildadelphia. On January 1, 1791, a senator from Pennsylvania noted in his diary: “Made the President the compliments of the season; had a hearty shake of the hand. I was asked to partake of punch and cakes, but declined”…Eventually, it became common social practice for those who intended to receive company to list in newspapers the hours they would be “at home.” It was a disastrous practice: parties of young men took to dashing from house to house for a glass of punch, dropping in at as many of the homes listed in the papers as they could. Strangers wandered in off the streets, newspapers under their arms, for a free drink and a bit of a meal. The custom of having an open house on the first day of the year survived the assaults of the newspaper readers. The traditional cookies and cakes continued to be served, along with hot toddies, punches, eggnog, tea, coffee, and chocolate. But public announcements of at-home hours were dropped at the end of the nineteenth century, and houses were open only to invited friends.”

Do you eat a special food on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day? If not, perhaps you might enjoy starting a new tradition in your family. If pork and sauerkraut are not to your liking (and I admit, it’s an acquired taste but one I love), you might want think about serving Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day, 2010. Here is a recipe for you to try:

To make Hoppin’ John, you will need:
• 1 pound dried black-eyed peas
• 2 small smoked ham hocks or meaty ham bone
• 2 medium onions, divided
• 3 large cloves garlic, halved
• 1 bay leaf
• 1 cup long-grain white rice
• 1 can (10 to 14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes with chile peppers, juices reserved
• 1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
• 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
• 3 ribs celery, chopped
• 1 jalapeno or serrano pepper, minced
• 2 teaspoons Cajun or Creole seasoning
• 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
• 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
• 3/4 teaspoon salt
• 4 green onions, sliced
In a large Dutch oven or kettle, combine the black-eyed peas, ham bone or ham hocks, and 6 cups water. Cut 1 of the onions in half and add it to the pot along with the garlic and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer gently until the beans are tender but not mushy, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Remove the ham bone or hocks, cut off the meat; dice and set aside. Drain the peas and set aside. Remove and discard the bay leaf, onion pieces, and garlic.
Add 2 1/2 cups of water to the pot and bring to a boil. Add the rice, cover, and simmer until the rice is almost tender, about 10 to 12 minutes.
Mince the remaining onion then add to the rice along with the peas, tomatoes, and their juices, red and green bell pepper, celery, jalapeno pepper, Creole seasoning, thyme, cumin, and salt. Cook until the rice is tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in the sliced green onions and the reserved diced ham. Serve with hot sauce and freshly baked cornbread.
And for those wondering where on earth the name “Hoppin’ John” came from, there are a number of theories – take your pick:
1. Hoppin’ John is a corruption of the French “pois a’ pigeon” (pwah ah pee-ZHAN), which when pronounced in the Creole manner sounds very much like hoppin’ John.
2. Hoppin John was the name of a lively African-American waiter with a limp who served the dish at a Charleston hotel.
3. Hoppin’ John was a husband named John who came hoppin’ to the table as dinner was served.
4. Hoppin’ Johns were waiters hoppin’ to serve hungry dinners in John’s restaurant in Charleston.
5. Hoppin John was a lame cook who hopped up and down while cooking it.
6. Hoppin’ John was the dish served to a Carolina sea captain on New Year’s Day who was told to “Hop in, John.”
7. Hoppin’ John was the name of an old ritual on New Year’s Day in which the children in the house hopped once around the table before eating the dish.
I’m told you need a bowl of collard greens to go with your beans and rice. The greens symbolize $$$$ for the coming year. I’ll make up Hoppin John and collard greens for our New Year’s Day meal and let you know how prosperous it makes me!
Happy Cooking!

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things (Part 2 Christmas Cookies)

As promised, here are some more cookie recipes. It’s hard trying to select just a few favorite recipes when there are so many that have become special and favorites to various family members over the years. My sons are the easiest – they just want regular chocolate chip cookies, sans “ingredients”. (Ingredients would be nuts of any kind, raisins, any other kind of dried fruit—no matter how great I think it is – all they want is a lot of chocolate chips). A good chocolate chip cookie will have maybe half a dozen chips in each cookie. I usually dump in twice as many chips as the recipe calls for. You can’t have too many chocolate chips.

Over the years, friends and family members have let me know which cookie is their favorite. Besides the chocolate chip cookies, Kelly likes Peanut Blossoms – the peanut butter cookie with a Hershey kiss on top. His wife, my daughter in law Keara, is partial to the lemon rounds ice box cookie – but also loves crisp little lemon cookies that are made with a box of lemon cake mix and Rice Krispies cereal. I like to dip the baked cookies into a tart lemon glaze during the holidays and recently tried adding some chopped dried cranberries – they were good! My girlfriend Tina also loves the crisp little lemon cookies.

Everyone in the family likes a butter cutout cookie that has been lavishly spread with butter cream frosting. (*At this point I love to tell the story about my son Michael, the Christmas he was 5 years old. I was up half the night frosting all the butter cutout cookies with butter cream frosting. I crawled into bed around 3 am. At 6 am, when I got up – it was only to discover that Michael had eaten all the frosting off of ALL the cookies. My mind goes completely blank after that – I can’t tell you what happened next. I probably cried. And no one received cookies from us that year).

Back in the day – the early 1960s – we had very little money and often lived from paycheck to paycheck. I began baking cookies and making jelly (back then pouring it into babyfood jars to give to friends) as a way of giving something to friends and neighbors. Our relatives were all back in Ohio. You know, I can remember spending $20 on toys for our two toddlers—and getting quite a bit for the money. Christmas in 1963, we had just returned to California after son Steve’s birth, in Cincinnati – and managed to rent an apartment in Toluca Lake…we had absolutely nothing left for furniture (much less presents). I remember baking cookies and sitting on the living room floor with friends, drinking coffee and eating cookies. It’s a good memory.

Kelly’s favorite peanut butter cookie has been revamped – here’s the 2009 version made without any flour. To make Kelly’s favorite peanut butter cookie you will need:

1 cup sugar
1 cup peanut butter
1 egg

Mix the above ingredients. You can shape them into balls and add a Hershey kiss after baking for 8 minutes – or roll the balls in sugar and then bake about 10-12 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees. OR, roll into balls and then flatten with the tines of a fork – and bake.

Here is a simple recipe for Fast & Fancy Macaroons. To make Macaroons you will need:

1 14-oz bag of angel flake coconut
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
2 tsp vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients; mix well. Drop from teaspoon onto well greased baking sheet OR parchment-paper lined baking sheet. You can decorate the macaroons with maraschino cherries or sprinkle with multi colored sprinkles. Bake 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove at once using a moistened spatula. Makes 5 dozen. You can also add 4 squares of unsweetened chocolate, melted, or add 1 cup of chopped pecans or almonds, before baking.

Crisp Little Lemon Cookies are made with a box of lemon cake mix. In order to make Crisp Little Lemon Cookies you will need

1 package lemon cake mix (18.5 oz)
1 cup Rice Krispies cereal
½ cup margarine or butter, melted (1 stick)
1 egg, slightly beaten

Mix all ingredients in a bowl; mix well. Shape into 1” balls and place 2” apart on ungreased baking sheets (or parchment paper lined cookie sheets). Bake in preheated oven @ 350 degrees, 9-12 minutes. Cool one minute; remove from baking sheets and cool on wire racks. Makes 3-4 dozen.

Shortbread Squares are a rich, buttery cookie that melt in your mouth. Even nicer if you happen to have one of the shortbread cookie pans but if not, don’t worry. An ungreased 15x10x1” cookie sheet will work just as well. To make Shortbread Squares you will need

1 pound butter (no substitutes), softened
1 cup sifted powdered (confectioners) sugar
3 ½ cups all purpose flour
½ cup cornstarch

In mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Combine flour and cornstarch; gradually add to the creamed mixture. Pat into an ungreased 15-in. x 10 in. x 1” baking pan. Pierce several times with a fork. Bake at 325 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until lightly browned. Cut into squares while still warm. Makes about 6 dozen shortbread squares.

Christmas is almost here and you haven’t baked any cookies? Stock up on a variety of cake mixes and you can whip up batch after batch of easy cookies. Here is my favorite recipe for Easy Chocolate Cookies. To make Easy Chocolate cookies you will need

1 (18.5-oz) box of devil’s food cake mix
½ cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 (6 oz) package of semi sweet chocolate chips

In a large bowl of an electric mixer, combine dry cake mix, oil and eggs. Beat with mixer until blended. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets (or cookie sheets lined with parchment paper), about 2 ½ inches apart. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven 10 minutes. Allow to rest on baking sheets 5 minutes, then remove with a thin spatula to wire racks to cool. Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Sandy’s Cooknote: You can change this recipe around – use white chips instead of chocolate chips and you will have a polka-dotted cookie. Drizzle them with a thin white frosting and you can add some colored sprinkles. Use peanut butter chips and you will have chocolate peanut butter cookies. this is a versatile recipe. And it doesn’t have to be devil’s food cake mix – any kind of chocolate cake mix will work. Oops…you are out of cooking oil? Then try this recipe for Quick Chocolate Cookies.

To make Quick Chocolate cookies you will need

1 package chocolate cake mix (18.5 oz)
1 cup chocolate chips
2 eggs
½ cup Miracle Whip dressing
½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Heat oven to 350 degres. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed, until blended. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets (or parchment paper lined baking sheets). Bake 10-12 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Makes 4 dozen.

Sandy’s cooknote: No, I don’t have any stock in a parchment paper company (I wish!)—but you can line your baking sheets and use the same parchment paper over and over again. It’s my favorite kitchen tool. It doesn’t matter if the directions state to grease the cookie sheets – or not. Parchment paper covers all your bases.

One more – Snickerdoodles. I have seen a lot of versions of snickerdoodles. One of the old recipes belonged to my mother and appeared in our family cookbook. HERE is an updated version that you can make with a box of yellow cake mix. To make the 2009 version of snickerdoodles, you will need:

3 TBSP sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 package (18.25 oz) yellow cake mix
2 eggs
¼ cup cooking oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease cookie sheet – or line with parchment paper! Combine sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Combine cake mix, eggs and cooking oil in a large bowl. Stir until well blended. Shape dough into 1” balls. Roll in cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place balls 2” apart on cookie sheet. Flatten balls with bottom of glass. Bake at 375 for 8 or 9 minutes or until set. Cool for a minute, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

I hope you enjoy some of these easy-to-make recipes. Some of them are so simple, you can let a child (or in my case a grandchild) help you in the kitchen. It’s never too soon to let them start learning how to cook (and learning how to measure with measuring cups and spoons is a basic lesson in math. My mother turned me loose in the kitchen when I was about ten years old. It was the greatest gift she gave to me – the freedom to explore and try recipes by myself. She had an Ida Bailey Allen Service cookbook – if you can read, you can learn how to cook. That cookbook of my mother’s is one of my most treasured cookbooks in my collection.

Happy cookie!

Twas A Week Before Christmas (a poem)

T’was a week before Christmas
And all through the house
Gift-wrap was littered, it
Even covered a spouse,
Who sat forlorn in his old easy chair,
Wondering if there was
An extra cookie to spare—
For cookies were baked
And filled every tin
But to eat even one
Would be considered a sin—
(Unless it was one that was broken or burned);
Decorations hung every where that you turned.
In the guest room presents were piled everywhere,
And trees were put up, not a moment to spare—
Twinkling lights and ornaments too,
But it will look pretty when we’re all through—
I’ve scorched all my fingers giving candy a test
And thought it was time that I had a good rest;
When out on the roof there arose such a clatter,
I dashed to the door to see what was the matter;
Up on a ladder, Grandpa swayed to and fro—
Trying to decide where the reindeer should go—
I was sure he would fall and smash all the lights
I shouted come down and we’ll fix it all right!
The dollhouse is back where it belongs
And hundreds of CDs play holiday songs,
Pork loin’s in the freezer and wood on the fire,
Eggnog in the frig we hope will inspire–
But if not there is brandy, bourbon and port,
To serve every guest who is a good sport;
We’ll work at it all til’ we fall with a jerk
And let Santa get credit for all our hard work!

–Sandra Lee Smith

Memories of Christmasses in Cincinnati

When I was a young child, all Christmasses were magical. There were the preparations; the cookie baking, my siblings and I making ornaments out of cotton and walnut shells, the foil caps from milk bottles, or uncooked macaroni–going downtown to see the nativity at Garfield Park, midnight mass at St Leo’s if you were old enough to stay up that late, going to my grandmother’s on Christmas Eve day, where she had a tree with bubble lights, only to be picked up later by my father–we drove home to see a lit Christmas tree glowing from the living room window and we’d know Santa Claus had been there. (Our tree was never up before December 24th. My mother waited until the last minute so she could get one, really cheap, at the tree stand on the corner next to Fred’s Saloon).

Seeing the lit tree – our anticipation grew.
“Hurry!” my mother would cry as we clambered inside “He’s just leaving – he’s on the roof!” and we’d rush out to try and catch a glimpse of Santa Claus, but never did. Never mind, there were all these presents in the living room, under the tree. I think one of my earliest Christmas memories has to do with a dollhouse and a little china cabinet that I knew immediately were for me. Another year I very much wanted my very own desk. It was the first thing I spotted inside the living room.

“My desk! My Desk!” I cried.
“How do you know it’s for you?” my mother asked.
“I know!” I said. It was the best Christmas present.

When I was a bit older – maybe about ten – I began taking my two younger brothers downtown on the bus, sometime shortly before Christmas. We’d visit all the department store Santas to get free peppermint sticks, and we’d do all of our Christmas shopping at the various 5 & 10 cent stores. I began learning my way around downtown when my mother bought a coat for herself at Lerner’s and had it in layaway. She gave me a dollar (weekly payment on the coat) and two nickels (bus fare each way). I wasn’t particularly interested in the big department stores but I loved Fountain Square, the 5 & 10 cent stores, thrift stores and used bookstores.

We had Woolworth’s, Kreske’s and Newberry’s. My brother recalls all the holiday store front displays, some of which were animated. Santas ringing bells and collecting money for the Salvation Army were on every street corner. (We knew they were just Santa’s helpers as were the department store Santa Clauses. Everybdy knew the real Santa Claus was busy at the North Pole.

I can’t tell you how three young children managed to buy gifts for everyone in the family–we never got an allowance so we had to scrounge around cashing in pop bottles or doing odd jobs for the neighbors in order to have any money at all. It also cost us a nickel for each bus trip, down and back, to downtown Cincinnati. And we somehow managed, I can’t imagine how, to work in a visit to the lunch counter at Woolworth’s to share a grilled cheese sandwich (the cheapest item on the menu) or a hot dog, and a coca cola or a phosphate. Our presents for each other and our parents and grandparents were often the least expensive items you could find in an 5&10 – hair nets for grandmothers, nail polish for our mother, a man’s handkerchief for our father, those tiny glass bottles shaped like toys filled with tiny round candies – for one another.

We had our parents, grandparents, and one another – five children – to shop for. My brother Bill always had the most change, pennies mostly, that he kept in a small coin purse, clenched tightly in one hand. We all knew the hazards of shoplifters! No shoplifter ever got any of OUR money.

Later we would go home and wrap our gifts in ironed-out gift wrap paper and ironed-out ribbons, and then plaster the whole thing with the stickers that came with the gift wrap (stickers that didn’t stick very well, I might add).

But downtown Cincinnati – that was the place to be, just before Christmas. There was Fountain Square, all lit up, and the department stores (Pogue’s, McAlpins, Shillitoes) with all their holiday displays in the store windows; Santa Clauses in each one of the stores, dispensing peppermint sticks. We made our rounds visiting ALL of the Department store Santas – for one thing, we loved free candy. For another, we weren’t above hedging our bets in getting what we wanted for Christmas. So we stood in line to see all of the Santa Clauses, wherever they were, to tell them what we wanted for Christmas. (My younger brothers always wanted the same thing: a cap gun-and-holster set either sponsored by Roy Rogers or Gene Autry and a wind-up train).

One year my brother Biff bought a small wax Santa boot filled with mint, for Dad. When Dad opened it, everyone laughed. Biff was affronted and ran upstairs to cry. The entire family had to go upstairs and convince Biff that they only laughed because it was such a wonderful gift.

Downtown Cincinnati during the Christmas holidays; It was all glittery and sparkling, a kind of wonderland. After the war ended (WW2) Fountain Square was once again lit up.
It could sometimes be made even more special if snow began to fall as we headed for the bus stop, loaded down with our gifts, satisfied that we had once again managed to find the most perfect presents for our parents and siblings.

When we arrived back home, we surreptitiously toted our presents up to my bedroom, to wrap, then put them under the tree.

These experiences were ones shared only with my two younger brothers; there are no photographs to remember them by, only our most cherished memories.