Category Archives: FAVORITE BOOKS

THE LANCASTER LIBRARY’S FRIENDS BOOK SALE

The California Lancaster Library’s Friends of the Lancaster Library had its annual book sale this week and I ended up with making two trips and filling 3 of my heavy-duty cloth tote bags both times—I think I spent about $30 altogether and it was money well spent – the Friends of the Lancaster California Library buys computers and other well needed items for the library. In a recent newsletter sent to members such as myself, I learned that several members of the library staff went on a shopping trip to Barnes and Noble recently and were able to spend $20,000 on books and media for various sections of the library. They also added support to programs at the library. Can you imagine?  This is what the re-sale of books was able to do!

From the viewpoint of a book lover—the annual Friends’ sale is like finding candy in the candy store for a fraction of the regular prices—the Lancaster Friend’s book sale is very organized; the books are divided into categories such as children’s/young adult/cooking/biographies and fiction. The fiction category alone is huge but everything, such as mysteries and thrillers, are then divided into alphabetical order. The Friends volunteers spend an entire week getting all the books in order. Hard cover books are priced at a dollar each (but the sale on Fridays is half price day so those hardcover books I like so much will be 50c each. On Saturday, books are a “buck a bag”.

I’ve been to a lot of library’s Friends of the Library book sales in the San Fernando valley for over twenty years—and we donated two SUV’s-full of books to the Burbank Friends when I was moving to the Antelope Valley. After we moved and got settled, I donated six boxes full of more books. When you find yourself with too many books (if such a condition is possible) donating them to a library’s Friends of the Library organization is a worth-while way to go. The only reason I have thinned out some of my shelves was because my companion Bob’s taste in fiction wasn’t the same as mine. I’ve given dozens—maybe hundreds—of the books he enjoyed reading to the Lancaster Library’s Friends.

(I did give some of Bob’s special interests, such as his Mark Twain collection to a close friend who is also a book lover)

The reason I am sharing all of this with you is because maybe – just maybe – you love books and aren’t aware of the various Friends of the Library book sales in your area.

I know that our Lancaster Friends organization always needs volunteers; I think of this all the time, wishing I were in better physical condition to help set up the books. They always need help unpacking and sorting the books too.

This year I happened to find a Myra Waldo cookbook I didn’t have—the Art of Spaghetti Cookery (you might want to read my blog post about Myra Waldo—still one of the most fascinating cookbook authors I have ever encountered). I also found a book—in fine condition—titled HOW THE WORLD COOKS CHICKEN – that I think may be my next cookbook review.

I bought about a dozen children’s books for the children’s section of my garage library—about a dozen spiral-bound local cookbooks that feels like some one’s   cookbook collection. I bought perhaps thirty or forty paperback books with various titles and perhaps twenty or so hard bound books of fiction. Sometimes a title is one of “my” authors that I buy even though I have a copy – I am always trying to make converts out of my friends. (I have converted several friends to Robert Morgan’s books—he is one of my favorite authors—as is Adriana Trigiani; I found an extra copy of one of her early titles, “Big Stone Gap” that I am confident I can give to someone who will read it and like her writing style. I even got my soon-to-be twenty years old granddaughter reading some of Adriana’s books. It’s nice to have extra copies of some of your favorite books to give away when the opportunity presents itself. Sometimes I send some of my favorites to my penpals.

Well, I started this train of thought this morning primarily to share some of my convictions about a library’s Friends of the Library organizations and to let other book lovers know that while you can read a book on a digital device, such as a Book Nook—it isn’t the same as having a real book in your hands to read, to tell friends about, sometimes to share with. I remember when Janet Evanovich’s books first began to be published. I bought the books immediately and then would share them with co-workers. It was so popular that we had to have a list on the blackboard at work, so everyone would know whose turn was next to read the books. I think I may have converted some coworkers into reading.

–Sandra Lee Smith

CHRISTMAS WON’T BE CHRISTMAS

Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

“I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.

“We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other,” said Beth contentedly from her corner.

The four young faces on which the firelight shone brightened at the cheerful words, but darkened again as Jo said sadly, “We haven’t got Father, and shall not have him for a long time.” She didn’t say “perhaps never,” but each silently added it, thinking of Father far away, where the fighting was. – From Little Women.

It was the first book I ever owned, a copy of “Little Women” given to me by my mother when I was about ten or eleven. I read it over and over again, often enough to be able to recite entire paragraphs from memory. Owning a copy of “Little Women” caused something to explode within my heart. It was never enough, after that, just to read a book although I read library books voraciously. I wanted to OWN those favorite books as well. Perhaps a year or two later, my brother Jim gave me FIVE Nancy Drew books for Christmas. FIVE! What riches! What wealth!

Not surprisingly, you will have to agree, my house today is wall to wall bookcases filled with books throughout most of the house (ok, none in the kitchen or bathrooms) although you can often find a little stack of magazines or catalogues on the back of the toilet. And last year, Bob built a library that takes up half of the garage. I was unpacking books to go onto the shelves as fast as he finished a section. Finally, after two years, the rest of our books were unpacked and placed on shelves.(We moved into this house in November of 2008).  The garage library is primarily for fiction although I have a respectable collection of books – biographies and auto biographies about our first ladies and one entire section is devoted to American presidents. (I think I have more about John Fitzgerald and Jackie Kennedy than any other president. I think this is because he was the first American president – and she the first “First Lady” who really captured my attention. Next high on my list are books about President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan.  We have made many trips to the Reagan Library and Museum in Simi Valley. But I also collect biographies and auto biographies about movie stars and this probably started when I began working at the SAG Health Plan in 1977.

I’ve also collected books – stories, biographies and—yes, even cookbooks—about African Americans (or Black Americans if you want to be more politically correct. I have found so many really wonderful stories written by African Americans. I believe this is an untapped resource of Americana fiction.

And yes, it started with an inexpensive copy of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. (I love Little Women so much that I have every film edition of this wonderful civil war era story. But, I have never figured out what pickled limes were; you may recall that Amy got in trouble at school for having a bag of pickled limes in her desk. The teacher confiscated the bag of pickled limes and threw them all out the school house window. I do a lot of canning  (and yes, I collect  cookbooks about canning, preserving, making jams, jellies and chutneys – but have never come across a recipe for making pickled limes!)

“Little Women” is one of those ageless stories that I enjoy watching during the holiday season – along with “Miracle on 34th Street” and “Elf”, “The Santa Clause” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

I have loved Christmas my entire life; when I was about ten years old I began taking my two younger brothers downtown – in Cincinnati – to do our Christmas shopping at the 5 & 10 cent stores. We did all our shopping in one day, along with visiting the department store Santas to get a peppermint stick – and then happily returned home on the trolley (or buses if they had replaced street cars by then) to surreptitiously slip upstairs to my bedroom and wrap our gifts – with wrapping paper my mother had saved from the year before. We ironed out gift wrap paper and ribbons to look “like new” again.  My two brothers and I have the most precious memories of those trips downtown. If we were able, we’d make another trip downtown to see the life-size nativity on display in Garfield Park.

And I think opening the presents, as wonderful as it was, might have been anti climatic to the trip downtown with my little brothers to buy Christmas presents for everyone in the family, with pennies and nickels we had saved or earned. We didn’t have an allowance and earning a bit of cash was always a challenge. My girlfriend Carol went downtown with us one year and in later years confessed that she was always jealous of us Schmidts, buying all our Christmas presents for about a dollar—total!  Well, there was also the five cent bus fare each way to take into consideration. And sometimes we even shared a grill cheese sandwich at the soda fountain counter in Woolworths.

How did we do it? I have no idea. Our little change purses were something like the loaves and fishes in the bible – there was always JUST enough to get something for everyone in the family – five of us children, our parents and our grandparents.

My love for Christmas rubbed off on Bob, my partner for the past 25 years. He became as enthusiastic as I, putting up trees (yes, plural – one year we had 8 trees up in the house in Arleta) and decorating everything in sight inside and outside of the house, while I baked cookies. One year we made a fantastic gingerbread house.  He was always as excited and pleased as I, when guests would arrive at our house and begin to ooh and ahh over the two trees standing on either side of our fireplace, the lighthouse tree in the dining room and the little kitchen-theme trees in the kitchen.   This will be my first Christmas without Bob to share it with.  Christmas won’t be Christmas without him.

I originally wrote this in November of 2011, two months after Bob passed away from cancer of the esophagus. This year will mark the third Christmas without him.

Sandra Lee Smith

September 7, 2014

 

 

 

OLD FRIENDS AND OLD BOOKS

Let me share with you a few thoughts on old friends and old books.

Years ago—when I was young and cute and the mother of only two little boys instead of four (1965, actually), I was working at Weber Aircraft when I found myself in need of a new babysitter. A friend suggested her neighbor, a woman named Connie, who herself was the mother of three young children, the youngest a boy the same age as my son, Michael.

Those two five year olds could get into more mischief than half a dozen other children their age. Once I came home to find Connie attempting to put together half a dozen bicycles and tricycles. Michael and his buddy Sean had taken apart all the bikes and trikes—to see how they worked, I think—but they were careful to keep all the parts in one pile. What one five year old didn’t think of doing, the other one came up with. Another time I came home to hear they had painted circles on the fences and whatever else they came in contact with.

Connie became my babysitter and more importantly, a close friend. She was godmother to my youngest son, Kelly, when he was born. Connie and I shared so many interests that it’s impossible to say which one was the most important—and we shared a love of books. One of our interests focused on the White House and anything Presidential; one time we bought a “lot” of used White House/Presidential books, sight unseen, from a woman somewhere in the Midwest. I think the books cost us about $50.00 each and when they arrived, we sat on the floor divvying them up.

We shared a love of cookbooks and began collecting them at the same time, in 1965, although Connie was a vegetarian and leaned more towards cookbooks of that genre. She was also “Southern” and shared with me a love of “anything” Southern. We shared a love of diary/journal type books and books about the Mormons, books about the White House, Southern cookbooks and religious groups that formed in the United States in the 1800s. These were just a few of our mutual interests.

It was because of Connie that I started working for the Health Plan where I was employed for 27 years, until I retired in December of 2002.—I only went to work “part time for six weeks IN 1977 to help out”, and there I was all those years later, casting an eye towards retirement and pleased that I had a pension. My job literally saved my sanity when I went through a divorce in 1985.

Our sons started kindergarten together, and Connie’s oldest daughter lived with me for about six months, as a mother’s helper, when she was in high school.

More than a decade ago, on June 29, 1998, Connie died of lung cancer. It seemed incongruous that someone so devoted to eating healthy should die of such a terrible disease. In 1971, Connie and I quit smoking together, at the same time. I never went back to smoking but a year later, Connie began smoking again. It was hard to understand—why would you take up something again that had been so hard to give up in the first place? (I don’t have the answer to this).

One night, Connie’s oldest daughter brought three boxes of books to the house, explaining that it has taken a long time to go through her mother’s collections—many of her books were divided up amongst her children and other friends, but there were some that Dawn thought I would especially like.

After she left, I opened the boxes and began laying books all over the coffee table and chairs. Books about the White House – some I had never heard of before! I wish I could have had them when I was writing “WHAT’S COOKING IN THE WHITE HOUSE KITCHEN”. Intriguing titles such as “DINNER AT THE WHITE HOUSE” by Louis Adamic, memoirs of the Roosevelt years, published in 1946, and “DEAR MR. PRESIDENT; THE STORY OF FIFTY YEARS IN THE WHITE HOUSE MAIL ROOM” by Ira Smith with Joe Alex Morris, published in 1949.

There was a Congressional Cook Book – #2 – and a very nice copy of “MANY HAPPY RETURNS or How to Cook a G.O.P. Goose”, the Democrats’ Cook Book. There were several books about soups that I had never seen before another subject I have written about previously, first for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange, and again on my blog. One was “THE New York Times Bread and Soup Cookbook”, another “The ALL NATURAL SOUP COOKBOOK”.

More books about Southern cooking – a few duplicates but others I was unfamiliar with, “RECIPES FROM THE OLD SOUTH” by Martha Meade, a copy of the “GONE WITH THE WIND COOKBOOK” – actually, a booklet – which was given away free with the purchase of Pebeco Toothpaste which is long gone from the drug store scene while “Gone with the Wind” is as famous as ever. (The first time I saw “Gone with the Wind” was with Connie.

My best friend and I drifted apart some years ago, after a difference of opinion –we remained friends but were not as inseparable as we once had been. She made new friends and so did I. But it was she who urged me to return to work in 1977, for which I remain forever grateful.

But I am deeply touched that some of her treasured books have come into my possession. Running my hands across the covers, I imagine that Connie had done the same thing, many times, dusting them, touching them. For in one aspect, if no other, we were kindred souls. We loved books. I still do.

Old books and old friends have a lot in common. As I have grown older, some of my dearest friends have passed away—but their books, now mine, remain treasures in my collection of books.

–Sandra Lee Smith

A FRESH LOOK AT FIGS, BY PAMELA ALLARDICE

Some years ago, I wrote an article on figs for the University of California Extension Service which, at that time, published a newsletter…the article was “everything I ever wanted to know—and share with the world” on the subject of figs. Oddly, I had titled it, “Who Gives a Fig?”

So, you ask, “What’s the point?” the point is, I had just finished reading (and salivating over) a book newly published in 1994 titled “A FRESH LOOK AT FIGS…TRADITIONS, MYTHS, AND MOUTH-WATERING RECIPES” published by Hill of Content, in 1993. The very first chapter is titled “Who Gives a Fig?” and contains pages and pages (about twenty—I counted)  on the history of figs throughout the world, including biblical quotes and superstitions (i.e., the Italians say fig leaves are unlucky and believe that evil spirits lurk in them during the summer months).

There is a wealth of reference material here – for instances, there are over 700 fig varieties in the world, and we learn that the fig is a member of the mulberry family. It is one of the oldest known plants in the world, and some writers have even suggested that the unspecified fruit that Eve offered Adam was actually a fig, not an apple. We do know that the earliest biblical reference to figs is the account of the fall of Adam and Eve, whereby they sewed fig leaves together to form aprons to cover their nakedness.

She discusses how the fig has featured in the mythologies of the ancient Egyptians and the ancient Greeks, as well as in Buddhist beliefs and in Christian tales.

Author Pamela Allaardice certainly did her homework—included in this book are two pages of bibliography.

As the owner of two prolific fig trees [until we moved to the Antelope Valley in 2008] I was constantly searching for good new fig recipes—and if you have a fig tree or if you just enjoy the taste of figs–Pamela Allardice’s book is for you.

Recipes? Try one o the many desserts—from chocolate fig mousse to fig and ginger pudding…or perhaps figgy pears or figs flambé. There are recipes for figs at Christmas, such as Christmas pudding, or Dutch Christmas bread…a fig and nectarine ice cream, or perhaps figs and mangoes in syrup. The author provides recipes for a Hungarian Fig Wine (that I wish I had tried) and baked figs with cherries and cinnamon…three are recipes for jams, sauces and preserves—from jellied fig and walnut relish to fig and watermelon preserves…fig butter and fig/apple spread.

For the adventurous, who want to try something different, there are recipes for a roast pork with figs and apples, or perhaps you might want to try a Medieval Meatball recipe.

I checked with both Amazon.com and Alibris.com—because I was startled to discover that A FRESH LOOK AT FIGS has maintained a distinct value—possibly because so little has been written about figs.  Amazon.com has pre-owned copies starting at $8.00.  A new copy starts at $35.00.  Alibris.com has copies, all starting at $35.00 and up. It originally sold new for $18.95.

A FRESH LOOK AT FIGS was originally published in Australia where author Pamela Allardice was editor of NATURE AND  HEALTH MAGAZINE and was a regular contributor  to AUSTRALIAN COUNTRY STYLE and HOUSE & GARDEN. At the time A FRESH LOOK AT FIGS was published, Allardice had written ten other books with fascinating titles – LOVE POTIONS and MOTHER KNOWS BEST.

Southern Californians may find themselves with a fig tree—last year I discovered that a fellow bowler on the league I had joined –had fig trees. Hers are a different variety from the black mission figs we had in Arleta—these are a small green fig—but they ground up the same way in a blender and I was able to make strawberry fig jam, often called Mock Strawberry Jam.  If you enjoy figs—or even have a fig tree, you might want to find a copy of A FRESH LOOK AT FIGS—worth the price if only for the well-written history.

–Updated Review by Sandra Lee Smith

My blog 10-21-13

BOUNTIFUL OHIO

BOUNTIFUL OHIO, subtitled “Good Food and Stories from where the Heartland Begins”  by James Hope and Susan Failor, and published by Gabriel’s Horn in Bowling Green Ohio, (1993) is the kind of book you will read again and again, with heartland recipes to refer to time and time again.

I hardly know where to begin—this book is so jam-packed with information and recipes.

Mr. Hope is rightfully Professor Hope; he taught at a university in rural Ohio. A native New Englander, James Hope set out, one summer, along with professional home economist Susan Failor, to “discover” Ohio.

Cincinnati, Ohio, is my birthplace; I was a native buckeye up to the age of twenty-one when my husband, baby, and I set out to drive across country to California.  But Ohioans never forget their roots and I have spent many summers, with my children, visiting relatives and friends in Cincinnati suburbs.

During those summer vacations, we made numerous trips to the famous chili parlors for platters piled high with Cincinnati chili, a concoction like none you have ever eaten. (A Four Way consists of spaghetti, topped with Cincinnati chili, chopped onions and grated cheese, topped off with oyster crackers. The best place to go to is Camp Washington Chili Parlor).

We ate wonderful German sausages with sauerkraut, farm-fresh sliced tomatoes and sipped Ohio’s famous Meier’s wine….so imagine my delight, discovering BOUNTIFUL OHIO—An entire cookbook devoted not only to recipes                              and foods cherished by Buckeyes, but filled, also, with the foodlore of Ohio.

I always knew that Cincinnati was famous as a meat-packing town, most notably Kahn’s, just as I always knew that Proctor and Gamble’s first company was located in Cincinnati. What I didn’t know is that P&G owed its origins to the meat-packing industry, too, that candle maker William Proctor and soap maker James Gamble married sisters and combined forces to form one of the most successful American business enterprises ever. This business owed its foundation to the fats and scraps collected from meat-packing plants.

Comment the publishers, “The recipes in this book range from cheesy cornbread to Sara’s Amish dressing and from Firelands Braised Beef Noir to Di’s Ohio sour Cherry Pie (winner of the best pie in America). They are the wholesome flavors of good food from home in Ohio”.

I also discovered an apple maple chutney recipe that I can’t wait to try, and along with an authentic recipe for Johnny Marzetti, the story behind its origins.  If you have very many regional cookbooks in your collection, you most likely have an assortment of Johnny Marzetti recipes, with Marzetti spelled many different ways. Here, then, is the true story behind Johnny Marzetti.

While not a community cookbook, BOUNTIFUL OHIO is definitely a regional cookbook, a book you will thoroughly enjoy and treasure for many years to come, whether or not you are from Ohio–or neighboring Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, West Virginia or Pennsylvania.  While numerous books have been published, extolling the virtues of Midwestern cooking, few have delved so deeply to explain why it is so good.

In the Preface, James Hope and Susan Failor write “You don’t have to travel far to go a long way in Ohio: the state is so diverse—geographically, economically, ethnically—but the scene outside your window changes constantly. Sometimes that makes it hard for Ohioans to figure out just who they are—but it intrigues and delights the authors of this book, and is one of the reasons we decided to write it…”

The authors say they’re glad they did. Being interested in food, they ate their way from border to border and found a lot of it, in a variety ranging from five star virtuosity (The Maisonette in Cincinnati that held that rare ranking for decades, closed its doors in 2005).

The authors say that Ohio is one where farm and cookie factory literally exist side by side.  Ohio is smaller in land area than 33 other states, so it packs a surprising amount of agriculture and industry into a small space.

“Midwesterners that they are,” write Hope and Failor, “Ohioans don’t toot their own horns much. But Ohio ranks among the nation’s top ten or twelve states in corn, soybeans, wheat, fresh vegetables, dairy products, chickens, egg, hogs and vegetables for processing. It does more than grow food, too; it also processes vast amounts of ketchup, pickles, soup, ice cream, Swiss cheese, cereal and many other things. Most people don’t realize what an efficient little cornucopia this state is…”

The authors owe the success of BOUNTIFUL OHIO to all the people listed at the end of the book—farmers, grocers, chefs, food processors, homemakers, extension agents, professional government officials and dozens of other Ohioans who helped them write this book.

Chapter One is titled “IN SEARCH OF BOUNTIFUL” and Professor Hope explains that he took to the road in mid-August, a few days after teaching his last class of summer session at a university in rural Ohio and was now free for a year, on leave to do research of the kind that is supposed to add to the world’s body of knowledge. He would do that, but had something else in mind, too.

He says that like William Least Heat-Moon in BLUE HIGHWAYS and Ishmael in MOBY DICK, Hope was in search of something. While those writers were trying to fill gaps  in their souls, he was hoping to fill a different kind of vacancy—he was looking for good things to eat.

(Many books have been written in the past three or four decades about finding good food to eat throughout the USA—I know because I have collected a lot of those books–but this was the early 1990s and a lot of those books hadn’t been written yet).

Professor Hope confessed that after years of gulping quick lunches between classes, he was hungry and intended to eat leisurely and well—but there was a deeper purpose to this as well. He had a theory (as professors often do) that food, and the search for it, would help him come to know Ohio, perhaps become even more of an Ohioan.

Culture, he writes, is all the things a people value—it is how they establish their identity, their sense of who they are, their uniqueness. Culture, he says, is art, music and literature but it is also film, furniture, car ornaments, roller coasters and merry go rounds. And, says Professor Hope, it is food. Especially food: our foods are among the common statements of who we are; we create and consume them all day long. (I would have said it’s also our cookbooks. In the mid 1960s when I first began collecting cookbooks, I started with a church cookbook my father bought from a co-worker at Formica. Dad bought several copies of this Cincinnati Methodist church cookbook, for my sisters and my mother and me.  I cherished that cookbook and began to wonder if there were of it “out there.”  I have learned a great deal over the years about places from the cookbooks published by churches and clubs).

Professor Hope says that getting to know this place and its culture—to become part of it—was important to him.  He had lived in Ohio for more than a decade and a half, but still felt like a New Englander, someone from away. “I couldn’t blame the Ohioans,” he writes, “they seemed friendlier than the taciturn Yankees with whom I was raised.  The problem was this: I had never really taken the time to get to know the place, and Ohio seemed more like an address than a home.”  (This is something I can relate to—when we first came to California in 1961, I didn’t feel like a Californian. We returned to Ohio in 1963 for the birth of our second son, Steve, – but before the year was over, I knew we had to return to California. Ohio was no longer my home. I had somehow become a Californian).

But, back to James Hope and BOUNTIFUL OHIO – in which he says that New Englanders know exactly who they are and they have the sights, the sounds, the ancestors and the flavors to prove it to you, whether you ask them or not. They claim a sense of place as birth right and have all the materials for it. Professor Hope says he grew up surrounded by mountains and Indian trails, Revolutionary War battlefields, home ports for clipper ships and brooding houses with small-paned windows that concealed secrets.

Further on he writes how, in the sixth decade of his life, he knew where he had been; he did not know where he was now and meant to do something about it.

There is a great deal more to the Preface to BOUNTIFUL OHIO but I would be remiss to write too much of it and take away from you the experience of seeing my home state of Ohio from another’s eyes. (I have been seeing Ohio through my birthright eyes and then, later on, I began seeing Ohio in a different light—becoming more appreciative as I got older and would visit places with one of my brothers or one of my nephews. With my brother Bill over the span of several years – we visited Hale Farm and Cuyahoga National Park, as well as Stan Hywet mansion in Akron, Ohio. This is a 65 room Tudor style mansion built in 1912 by Goodyear Rubber company founder F.A. Seiberling and his wife.  It was touring the house and gardens that made me realize how much I love old houses. Curiously, the house is not named after a person, as commonly believed, and it took 4 years to build at a cost of $150,000.

You can spend a lot of time reading BOUNTIFUL OHIO—it’s the kind of book to read a little at a time, relishing all the history—and the recipes!

BOUNTIFUL OHIO can be purchased on Amazon.com at one cent and up for a pre owned copy.  Mine is a softcover (oversized) cookbook.   A great addition to collectors of regional material.

Alibris.com has pre-owned copies of BOUNTIFUL OHIO starting at 99c.

A great regional cookbook to add to your collection!

Review by Sandra Lee Smith

 

 

 

JANE & MICHAEL STERN, COOKBOOK AUTHORS

The concept may have originated with Duncan Hines, but Jane and Michael Stern have forged a career out of traveling throughout the country and then compiling cookbooks about the foods they have tasted while traveling hither and yon.  And I suspect, being a writer myself, that some of the non-cookbooks written by the Sterns were offshoots of their travels and research into the cookbooks they have been writing for more than a few years now. I know that when I am researching one thing, others pop up and you fish around for some paper and pen or pencil to jot down other ideas that surface. Some of the books appear to be a nod towards favorite people or topics.

In 2003, I reviewed a beautiful Cookbook titled THE LOUIE’S BACKYARD COOKBOOK” by Jane and Michael Stern, with recipes by Doug Shook. This compilation at the time of publication in January, 2003, was the latest in a series from Rutledge Hill Press of Nashville, Tennessee, celebrating America’s best regional restaurants.  Louie’s Backyard is a restaurant, located in Key West, Florida. While I lived in North Miami Beach, Florida, for three years, I’m sorry to say I never made it to Key West. Louie’s Backyard Cookbook makes me yearn to go.

That said, a number of other cookbooks, well-compiled with beautiful dust jackets have been created by the Sterns. These include:

*THE BLUE WILLOW INN COOKBOOK/Voted Best Small-Restaurant in the South by Southern Living Readers, published in 2002;

*THE DURGIN-PARK COOKBOOK/Classic Yankee Cooking in the shadow of Faneuil Hall, also published in 2002;

*FAMOUS DUTCH KITCHEN RESTAURANT COOKBOOK/Family Style Diner Delights from the Heart of Pennsylvania, published in 2004;

*COOKING IN THE LOWCOUNTRY FROM THE OLD POST OFFICE RESTAURANT/Spanish Moss, Warm Carolina Nights and Fabulous Southern     Food, also published in 2004;

*SOUTHERN COUNTRY COOKING FROM THE LOVELESS CAFÉ/Fried Chicken, Hams, and Jams from Nashville’s Favorite Café, published in 2005;

(Asterisk denotes the cookbooks in this series that I have.   But to get a better picture of what Jane and Michael Stern were writing before they latched onto the concept of the series named “A Roadfood Cookbook, Celebrating America’s Best Regional Restaurants” we have to go back in time.  In my collection, I have the books preceded with an asterisk. To date, this is the list of literary accomplishments achieved by the Sterns, possibly incomplete. Mostly, I searched on Google for titles I didn’t have, checked for titles in the ones I do have, and then ended up in Amazon.com ordering half a dozen more.  The books I ordered should be coming in the mail anyday now.

Here is a list of books written by Jane and Michael Stern:

TRUCKER: A PORTRAIT OF THE LAST AMERICAN COWBOY, 1975 Jane Stern only. One critic wrote: “like many early 70’s books on culture of the USA, it was written with heavy realism with nothing hidden-no gloss. The tone is reverent but lays out all the harsh realities of truckin’, great photos, great poetry, almost punk. 70’s graphics set the tone to this gritty ode to the “last American cowboy”. a REAL slice of American pie”.

ROADFOOD, 1977, 8th edition in 2011,Roadfood: The Coast-to-Coast Guide to 700 of the Best Barbecue Joints, Lobster

AMAZING AMERICA, 1978 – out of print (and hard to find), described as: Unusual, interesting, and extraordinary sights, events, and attractions throughout the United States, ranging from the Campbell Museum in Camden, New Jersey, to the Calaveras Jumping Frog Jubilee in Angels Camp, California.

AUTO ADS, 1978

DOUGLAS SIRK, 1978, Michael Stern only (Sirk was a film director who was born in Germany to Danish parents, raised in Denmark but moved to Germany when he was a teenager. He started his film career in 1922 but left Germany in 1937 because of his political leanings and his Jewish wife. He made numerous films, including Magnificent Obsession in 1954 and All That Heaven Allows, in 1955)

HORROR HOLIDAY/Secrets of Vacation Survival, 1981

*SQUARE MEALS/AMERICA’S FAVORITE COMFORT FOOD COOKBOOK,  published in 1985 reprinted 2001

JANE AND MICHAEL STERN’S COAST TO COAST COOKBOOK: REAL AMERICAN FOOD, 1986

ELVIS WORLD, 1987 – Has been described as a vast universe defined by all that Elvis stands for: the music, of course, and the movies, the life and the legend, but also the cascade of material things he collected and consumed (from pink cadillacs and the cheeseburgers to diamond rings and Graceland), the glitter and the mammoth success (one billion records sold, more than anyone else in history starting with its four page-gate fold title page, this book is bursting with rare photographs, with wonderful Elvis memorabilia (1950s fans magazines: “Elvis – Hero or Heel?”  Elvis wallets, Elvis handkerchiefs, Elvis bedroom slippers with the Elvis with the Elvis phenomenon as it exists today. Elvis Presley has become an American symbol as recognizable as the American flag. He is a landmark in almost everyone’s life, and his image continues to mesmerize. Elvis has transcended his previous status as merely the most popular entertainer in history, and “Elvis world” explains and revels in this phenomenon. With affection and wit – and a touch of irreverence – the Sterns guide us through Elvis world, showing us an Elvis we’ve never seen before. –This text refers to an alternate hardcover edition.

*A TASTE OF AMERICA, published in 1988

STERNS GUILD TO DISNEY COLLECTIBLES VOLUME 1 by Michael Stern,  published in 1988

SIXTIES PEOPLE, 1990

JANE & MICHAEL STERN’S ENCYCLOPEDIA OF POP CULTURE, VOL 2 1990

THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF BAD TASTE, 1990

*AMERICAN GOURMET, published in 1991

WAY OUT WEST, 1993

*HAPPY TRAILS: OUR LIFE STORY BY ROGER ROGERS, DALE EVANS, JANE AND MICHAEL STERN, 1994

STERNS GUILD TO DISNEY COLLECTIBLES VOLUME 3 by Michael Stern,  published in 1995

*EAT YOUR WAY ACROSS THE U.S.A. published in 1997 (My favorite Cincinnati eatery, Camp Washington Chili, is featured in this book)

THE BEATLES, A REFERENCE & VALUE GUIDE, Barbara Crawford & Michael Stern, 1998

DOG EAT DOG: A VERY HUMAN BOOK ABOUT DOGS AND DOG SHOWS, 1998

TWO PUPPIES, 1998

CHILI NATION, 1999

*UP A COUNTRY LANE, BY EVELYN BIRKBY, JANE AND MICHAEL STERN 2000 (This title came to my attention when I was writing about old time radio programs, WHEN RADIO WAS KING – Don’t touch that Dial” (June, 2009)

*BLUE PLATE SPECIALS AND BLUE RIBBON CHEFS: THE HEART AND SOUL OF AMERICA’S GREAT ROADSIDE RESTAURANTS, 2001 (does not have the logo of “a Roadfood Cookbook Celebrating America’s Best Regional Restaurants”- it appears that the logo was adopted and appears for the first time on the Blue Willow Inn Cookbook-sls)

*THE BLUE WILLOW INN COOKBOOK/Voted Best Small-Restaurant in the South by Southern Living Readers, published in 2002;

*THE DURGIN-PARK COOKBOOK/Classic Yankee Cooking in the shadow of Faneuil Hall, also published in 2002;

THE HARRY CARAY’S RESTAURANT COOKBOOK: THE OFFICIAL HOME PLATE OF THE CHICAGO CUBS, 2003

AMBULANCE GIRL:  HOW I SAVED MYSELF BY BECOMING AN EMT, 2003, Jane Stern only

*FAMOUS DUTCH KITCHEN RESTAURANT COOKBOOK/Family Style Diner Delights from the Heart of Pennsylvania, published in 2004;

*COOKING IN THE LOWCOUNTRY FROM THE OLD POST OFFICE RESTAURANT/Spanish Moss, Warm Carolina Nights and Fabulous Southern     Food, also published in 2004;

ELEGANT COMFORT FOOD FROM DORSET INN: TRADITIONAL COOKING FROM VERMONT’S OLDEST CONTINUOUSLY OPERATING INN, 2005 (with Sissy Hicks)

*SOUTHERN COUNTRY COOKING FROM THE LOVELESS CAFÉ/Fried Chicken, Hams, and Jams from Nashville’s Favorite Café,  also published in 2005;

FRIENDLY RELATIONS, a novel, published in 2005

*TWO FOR THE ROAD/Our Love Affair with American Food, published in 2006

ROADFOOD SANDWICHES: RECIPES AND LORE FROM OUR FAVORITE SHOPS COAST TO COAST, 2007

500 THINGS TO EAT BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE: AND THE VERY BEST PLACES TO EAT THEM, 2009

THE LEXICON OF REAL AMERICAN FOOD, 2011

CONFESSIONS OF A TAROT READER: PRACTICAL ADVICE FROM THE REALM AND BEYOND, 2011, Jane Stern only

Obviously, not every book compiled by the Sterns is a cookbook! For those who like to compile a complete bibliography of favorite authors, this should give you something to work with. I counted 39 titles. One of the articles I read in Google lists more than 40 books.

Jane and Michael Stern, who are both baby boomers born in 1946, got their foot in the door by writing books about travel and food (after college graduation, neither one could find employment in the fields they had majored in).

They may be best known for their “Roadfood” books, website and magazine columns, such as the now defunct GOURMET MAGAZINE, for which they were staff writers for 18 years. The Sterns have won many awards, including three James Beard awards and the James Beard Perrier-Jouet Award for lifetime achievement. They were inducted into the Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America, in 1992. (When I first began delving into their titles, my first impression was that my younger brother Bill, also born in 1946, would appreciate the Sterns’ early books more than I, being a baby boomer himself. But the deeper I delved, the more fascinated I became.

The Sterns met as graduate students in art at Yale University, married in 1970 – and much to my surprise, divorced in 2008. While they now live in different cities, they continue to write and travel as a team, despite the divorce.  The Lexicon of Real American Food was published in 2011, the same year that Jane published CONFESSIONS OF A TAROT READER, based on her long-standing (but little known) career as a tarot card reader. And, although my blog articles focus primarily on cooking, cookbooks, recipes and favorite cookbook authors—I find myself intrigued by the titles of the Sterns collective or individual non-cookbook accomplishments.  It’s almost like thinking you have known somebody for a long time and suddenly discover there are layers of other interests, like the layers to an onion.

Normally, I would give you ordering information on various cookbooks—but there are too many titles to do this. I suggest, if you are interested in one of these titles, that you visit Amazon.com or Alibris.com (many of their cookbooks can be purchased very reasonably); I obtained a lot of my information on the Sterns’ books from these websites and Google. or, read my post Louie’s Backyard Cookbook, posted in June, 2012 on this blog for a sample of their  “Roadfood”  series.

Review by Sandra Lee Smith

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOME KIND OF CHRISTMAS FOOL

SOME KIND OF CHRISTMAS FOOL

(The following, with some changes, was previously posted on my blog Nov 11. 2011).

“When we were young, there were moments of such perfectly crystallized happiness that we stood stock still and silently promised ourselves that we would remember them always. And we did.” (From the “FOUR MIDWESTERN SISTERS’ CHRISTMAS BOOK”, published in 1991 by Holly Burkhalter, with Kathy Lockard, Karol Crospie and Ruth Bosley.)

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug. (From “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott.

This is the wonder of Christmas,

Sleigh bells and holly and snow,

Church chimes and mittens and pine cones,

Warmth from a fireside’s glow.

This is the wonder of Christmas,

Trinkets bedecking a tree,

Tinsel and strings of cranberries,

Children, all shouting with glee.

This is the wonder of Christmas,

Merriment, loving and caring,

This is the wonder of Christmas,

The happiness that comes from sharing.

This is the wonder of Christmas,

See the manger, there, under the tree,

With small statues symbolic of all that

The Christ child would want it to be.

Hobbies come in all shapes and sizes. I have various friends and acquaintances that enjoy hiking, horse-back riding, camping, and/or bowling. Some people collect stamps and call it a hobby, although to my mind, collecting something takes it out of the realm of hobbying and into the jurisdiction of collecting. Or perhaps the two are synonymous. I consulted my trusty friend, Webster, and was advised that “A hobby is something that a person likes to do or study in his spare time or avocation”. Another rare definition of hobby offered by Webster is “A subject that a person constantly talks about or returns to”.  I like the latter definition; it describes how I feel about Christmas.  Christmas is my hobby.

Back in medieval times, preparation for Christmas feasting began months in advance even though the common folk might only a few hours away from their duties, working for the upper classes and royalty Christmas celebrations would last two weeks, until the Feast of the Epiphany, on January 6th. It’s said that King Henry VIII of England raised revelry to a new high—few kinds could party as hearty as Henry.

Curiously, however, most historians agree that it’s very unlikely that Jesus Christ was actually born on December 25th. There is an interesting book titled “Christmas Feasts from History” by Lorna Sass, (published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Irena Chalmer’s Cookbooks, Inc. 1981), in which the first chapter is devoted entirely to the Roman Saturnalia Banquet. Ms. Sass quotes the poet, Virgil, (70-19 BC) who described the Saturnalia as a merry festival that was the traditional culmination of the ancient Roman year. “Named for Saturnus, the Roman god of seeds and sowing, the celebration probably began to commemorate the end of the autumn sowing season in southern Italy, a time of brief respite from the yearly round of farm chores, a time to pause and exchange good will with neighbors and friends..”

Saturnalia began around December 17 and all work was suspended for seven days…“Romans took to the streets with carnival-like abandon, shouting ‘To Saturnalia”. Slaves were free to do and say what they pleased and a mock king was chosen ruler. Characteristics of what was to become Christmas were already in evidence: halls festooned with laurel leaves, gifts exchanged—often little dolls made of clay or dough—and small wax tapers lit as protection against the hovering spirits of darkness…the week-long festival reached its peak on or about December 25, a day set aside for special reverence to the sun..”

Early church leaders often attempted to substitute  a Christian holiday for a pagan one and it is thought that Christmas became the substitute for Saturnalia. (Personally, I have often speculated that Jesus was born around in March—I think it’s plausible that He was a Pisces, the sign of the fish – for the fisher of men). In any event, the early church habit of substituting pagan holidays for Christian ones does not detract in the least from what it is that we are actually observing.

In medieval times, the court jester, or fool, was often called upon to entertain guests while they enjoyed their meal, along with tumblers and minstrels, and other paid entertainers.  Maggie Black, in her book “THE MEDIEVAL COOKBOOK” tells is that “Entertainment was the main part of any feast, especially a great one, and at the end when the alms baskets were carried out to the poor, and the last Twelfth Night toast was drunk, it was to be hoped that one and all could say “that was a good feast. The year ahead will go well!”

Centuries later, I find that I am some other kind of Christmas fool. I’m not likely to wait until Thanksgiving or after to start thinking about Christmas. It’s on my mind all year long.

My childhood Christmases are cherished memories. It seems that our holiday season began with the Feast of St Nicholas, on December 6th. We hung stockings (usually long white stockings of my father’s) and the next day found them filled with walnuts and tangerines and hard candies…sometimes a little toy. I had my own tangerine tree in Arleta, where we lived for 19 years and tangerines always remind me of the Feast of St Nicholas (I don’t remember ever having tangerines at any other time of the year, when I was growing up).

Many years later I had all but forgotten our family observation of the Feast of St Nicholas, part of our Dutch heritage, until one year when my sons were something like 8,5, 2, and 1 years old and turning into unholy terrors as Christmas approached and television commercials assaulted their impressionable little minds with the wonders and glories of toys that every-kid-just-had-to-have. The momentum continued to grow until I was ready to disown all four of them, whose every sentence began with “I want—“. Then I remembered the Feast of St Nicholas. We reinstated the tradition of stockings being hung on December 5th and observed this tradition for many years after. It was something to tide the children over until Christmas finally arrived.

Snow flakes. Pine needles. My grandma’s diamond shaped walnut and sugar studded butter cookies*. Grandma’s homemade pumpkin strudel (with Filo dough made from scratch!); A Christmas tree glowing with bubble lights. Weeks of rehearsing Christmas carols at school, which took on new meaning when I joined the choir. As a small child, the shivering anticipation of being allowed, one a week, to put away pencils and books, while we made cards and calendars and “tie racks” out of construction paper, library paste and cardboard tubes. On Friday afternoons, song books were passed out to the students and we learned the words to “Jolly Old St Nicholas” and “Up on the House Top”, “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Silent Night”.  At home, we bought sheet music and learned the words and music to “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman”. I sang “Rudolph” with two clowns at a Christmas party sponsored by my Grandma Beckman’s club that year.

We took piano lessons and flute and clarinet, and practiced our favorite Christmas songs until everyone in hearing range was tired of hearing them. When we tired of listening to each other, my mother would sit down at our old upright piano and play “Silver Bells” which was, I think the only Christmas song she knew how to play. (My mother never learned to read music; she played entirely “by ear” and was really quite good).

I will always remember the Christmas that my older brother gave me five brand-spanking new Nancy Drew books—the first books of my very own. Such bounty! The first book that my mother ever bought for me was, incidentally, “Little Women”, which I practically memorized from reading it so often.

One year my mother was terribly sick in the hospital—but came home long enough to spend Christmas with us.

We children ironed the wrinkles out of the previous year’s gift wrap; we ironed out old ribbons too. We made our own gift tags out of index cards and those little glue on stickers—the kind that never stuck to anything else. (I wouldn’t say that we were poor, exactly, but we certainly were frugal.)

We did all our own Christmas shopping—my two younger brothers and I, making a once-a-year shopping excursion to downtown Cincinnati where we prudently shopped for cards of bobby pins or lilac splash cologne—or handkerchiefs with our daddy’s initial on them, or one of our favorites, “Midnight in Paris” which came in a distinctive blue bottle that we loved. We managed to see all of the Department store Santas (as much motivated by free candy canes as the desire to cover all our bases since you never could e sure which one might be the REAL Santa.)  We carefully guarded our meager pennies against potential shoplifters we had been warned about, and somehow bought presents for our parents, grandparents, siblings and dearest friends. Most incredibly, we usually managed to have some lunch at the Woolworth’s lunch counter—a grilled cheese sandwich with dill pickle slices, and a coca cola, split three ways—was, I think, about twenty-five cents. I should add, we did ALL of our shopping in Woolworth’s, Newberry’s and Kresge’s five and ten cent stores. They had the best “stuff”.  (Once, my childhood friend Carol confessed that she had always been jealous of me on those shopping trips.

“Me?” I exclaimed. “Whatever FOR?”

“Because,” she replied, “You could buy so much more with a dollar than anyone else”)

Over the years I have thought long and hard about those shopping trips which, incidentally, also cost us five cents bus fare to and from downtown Cincinnati.  How did we manage to do it?  I often think of loaves and fishes in the bible. That was the three Schmidt children shopping for Christmas presents for at least ten people, not counting anything for friends. We always, somehow, managed to have just enough. And, let me add – we didn’t have allowances or anything that frivolous in our lives. Every penny was a penny earned or money from cashing in pop bottles for the two cent refund.

We loved downtown Cincinnati during the holidays, the lights of Fountain Square, the “living crèche” in Garfield Park, all of the sidewalk Salvation Army Santas ringing their bells, and the gorgeous window displays in all of the department stores.

When we got back home with our treasures, we smuggled everything upstairs to my bedroom where we engaged in a frenzy of wrapping. We often ended up at my grandmother’s on Christmas Eve day; eventually my father would arrive with his cousin – my godmother, Barbara, who I only saw during those holidays and always seemed to me to be something like a fairy godmother. We would pile into the car to go home; we would see the lit tree from the street—for we NEVER had a Christmas tree before Christmas—and seeing the brightly lit tree, framed by the living room window, we would just know that Christmas had arrived. We would rush through the front door only to be told by our mother that we had “just missed Santa—he just went out the back door” whereupon we rushed to the back door to try to catch a glimpse.

We’d open the presents handed out to us one at a time by my mother and later, if you could stay awake, you might be able to go to midnight mass with the adults.

What I remember most clearly about Christmas mass is the crèche—the statues of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, finally uncovered (for they had been draped with cloths throughout Advent.)

There was singing and incense and the smell of wet coats and gloves—for it seems that it almost always started to snow on Christmas Eve. The choir sang “Silent Night” and “Adeste Fideles” and “Away in the Manger” – and IF the Baby Jesus was not actually born on December 25, it matters not a whit for we believed in Him and we believed in His birth.

Christmas Day—when I was a young child—usually found us having dinner at my paternal grandmother’s—it’s a wonder to me that in later years when she lived in the two front rooms of the first floor of her apartment house, she somehow managed to fit all of us—my parents, siblings, two aunts, two uncles and various cousins ALL into those two rooms. As soon as we had eaten, my Uncle Al gave us each a quarter for the movies—fifteen cents for admission, ten cents to spend—and then would drive us all to the movie theatre. (We thought Uncle Al was rich—handing all those quarters out so freely!) and by the time we got back, everything would be brought back to the table for a late supper. (While we were gone, the adults all played cards. You knew you were “of age” when you were allowed to join the adults playing cards).

So, is it any wonder that the love of Christmas spilled over into my adult life?  That we, in my household, think about Christmas all year long—beginning with the after Christmas sales but gaining momentum around in May when the first strawberries and blackberries ripened and could be made into jams and preserves, cordials and jellies. By August, the first Black Mission figs were ripening on our trees and the grapes in my arbor were slowly turning purple. Around in October, pomegranates turned ruby red and could be converted into pomegranate jelly  or a luscious liqueur. Pumpkins began to be displayed at produce stands (and now my youngest son and his son—my nine year old grandson, Ethan—have taken to growing their own pumpkins). From the pumpkins we made pumpkin bread and pumpkin butter.

We searched for just the right presents for everyone on our gift list, all through the year, and I discovered that Christmas shopping while on vacation in July could be a lot of fun, especially if you were doing it with a sister. We were all catalogue buffs and carried bundles of Christmassy mail order books all over the house, dropping thinly veiled hints in our wake. By September, some of my packages had to be wrapped and mailed to meet overseas deadlines—so September was never too soon to drag everything out of the Christmas closet and do an inventory.  I make up lists. Extra rolls of film (I DO still take photographs using actual FILM). Sugar and flour and jars of molasses go onto my list. Lots of scotch tape! (and WHAT do you suppose people did before Scotch tape was invented?)

I remember one year—in the 1970s, I think—when the price of sugar skyrocketed to something like $5.00 for a 5-lb bag of granulated sugar—even as I write this, the price sounds astronomical (even though a FOUR pound bag of sugar, on sale, now, is about $2.50). I hardly baked a thing that year and it was a terrible disappointment. For years after, I stockpiled sugar months in advance to safeguard against it ever happening again.

Sometime in August, maybe as early as July, I would be digging through cookbooks and recipe files, pulling out the favorite cookie and candy and confection recipes.  October is not too soon to start mixing cookie dough, If you have a freezer to store it in and you have a lot of favorite cookie recipes. Some cookies can be baked well in advance—the ones that thrive on aging in a tightly fitted tin or Tupperware container—the Springerle and Pfeffernusse and cut out gingerbread cookies and those decadent rum balls. I try to get all of the cookies made a few weeks before Christmas, so that I can make up gift baskets and fill tins with cookies for neighbors and friends—and nowadays my favorite post office clerks and our mail lady, my manicurist and our family mechanic.  When Christmas is getting close, THEN it’s time to make the delicate Spritz cookies, lemon Madelines, and Russian Tea Cakes.

Back in the day – when my sons were growing up – we’d often make several dozen different kinds of cookies; they’d take them to school for their teachers, I’d take them to work for coworkers.  We’d make fruitcake bars and peanut brittle, Mamie Eisenhower’s fudge, and English Toffee, and my favorite New Orleans pecan pralines, Sherried walnuts and my Aunt Annie’s Opera Creams, my sister’s Buckeye Balls, Truffles, Caramel Corn—and the family favorites; Kelly’s M&M party cookies, Chris’ oatmeal raisin, Michael’s Butter Cut Out Cookies (*When Michael was five years old, I stayed up one night until about 4 am decorating each and every Butter Cut out cookie with frosting. I had them spread out to dry on every counter and table top. When I got up the next        morning, Michael had eaten the frosting off every single cookie. I’m not sure what happened after that—but Michael told me years later that the sight of frosting on butter cookies made him feel slightly queasy.

I believe it was that same year that Michael, then in kindergarten, questioned me persistently about reindeer.

“Mom,” he said “Can reindeer fly?”
“Hmm,” I hedged, “Well, I’ve always heard…certainly Santa’s reindeer—you know, Dasher and Dancer and then there’s Rudolph—why do you want to know, son?” to which he replied, matter-of-factly, leaving no room for doubt, “m TEACHER says they CAN’T!” and as anyone who has ever had a kindergartener knows, if teacher says they can’t, that’s the end of it.

When I was an 18 year old bride, in 1958, I clipped some cookie recipes out of a woman’s magazine and then into a 3-ring binder, and a tradition was born. Now, fifty-something years later, I have seven or eight 3-ring binders filled with JUST the cookie recipes, most clipped out of magazines. (I also began using those 3 ring binders for many other recipes as well—there are four or five just for my canning recipes—jellies, jams, chutneys, pickles, preserves, two for cakes, and so on.  Now there are over 50 of those 3 ring binders stuffed with recipes.

We built our own memories, my children and I.  We laughingly recall the year my husband & I stayed up until 4 am putting together a hot-wheels-type of racetrack that Michael, then about four years old, had dismantled by 5 am. There was the year that my girlfriend and I and our children made bread dough ornaments that didn’t quite turn out. We had bits of dough in our hair, clothing and all over the floor. (You may have discovered, as did we, that not everything turns out quite like the magazine illustrations, does it?)

One of my favorite stories involves my dear friend, Neva. She wanted to make a candyland house with me one year, such as I would make using a cardboard frame taped together to look like a cottage. Then I would liberally spread the exterior of the house with royal frosting and decorate it with small candies before the frosting dried. (Writing about how I made the candyland houses was one of the first articles I sold to Tower Press magazines). It would be some years before I worked up enough nerve to actually make a real gingerbread house. Anyway, Neva wanted to make a candyland house too – except for one thing – she wanted to make hers a castle. (it actually went with her house that looked somewhat like a miniature castle). No problem, I assured her. We could make a castle. I whipped up batch after batch of royal frosting, running around the house digging up cardboard tubes and digging through kitchen drawers for suitable accessories – while Neva, her daughter and my sons constructed and decorated a castle. It was truly an impressive work of art but I confess to being nonplussed when, some weeks later, the local Valley News ran a story (with photographs!) about Neva and her candyland castle, which – according to the newspaper story—was her “family tradition”.

One year when we lived in Florida, I was tearfully distraught trying to make one of our favorite Christmas cookies – like lace cookies, which wouldn’t harden, or stained glass cookies – that dripped away the stained glass part as they hung on a tree. I also set the oven on fire trying to make graham cracker houses  (which we had made successfully in California) because the melted sugar wasn’t hardening. I had a vague notion that putting them into the oven would help them dry out. Instead, the melted sugar dropped all over the coils of the electric oven and caught fire.

Somewhere along the way I began collecting Christmas ornaments. Like Topsy, it just grew and grew, until the time came when we needed a second tree for all the ornaments. I began searching for ornaments where ever I went on vacation and more than once found a Christmas store.  My favorite one is in Carmel California. The store is filled with year-round trees decorated with ornaments made by local artisans. Some of these are my absolute favorites.

One year my sister and I were there oohing and ahhing over the ornaments.

“Will you take a check?” I asked the owner.

“Of course,” she replied.

“Do you need to see some identification?” I asked.

“No,” she said, complacently, “Christmas people don’t cheat.”

These are some of my stories; if I thought long and hard I could come up with many more—but I want to tell you about some of my favorite Christmas cookbooks.  As you know, I collect cookbooks – and possibly my favorite topic in my cookbook collection are the Christmas cookbooks – along with cookies. A few years ago, a friend set up a database for me and I managed to get all of the Christmas cookbooks logged on before we had to move. There are over 500 of them.  But some are really FAVORITES—the cookbooks I turn to, year in and year out. If you need to get into the holiday mood, I guarantee that reading Christmas cookbooks will get you there. Maybe you can write to me and tell me about your favorite holiday recipes or your favorite Christmas cookbook!

I like THE FRUGAL GOURMET CELEBRATES CHRISTMAS and MYSTIC SEAPORT’S CHRISTMAS MEMORIES COOKBOOK; There’s MARTHA STEWART’S CHRISTMAS, (with directions for creating a gingerbread mansion) and 365 WAYS TO PREPARE FOR CHRISTMAS. I like John Clancy’s CHRISTMAS COOKBOOK and A YANKEE CHRISTMAS by Sally Ryder Brady; ROSE’S CHRISTMAS COOKIES by Rose Levy Barenbaum, and my beloved LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK OF CHRISTMAS ENTERTAINING by Dawn Navarro and Betsy Balsley. I love re-reading Mimi Sheraton’s VISIONS OF SUGARPLUMS and Virginia Pasley’s THE CHRISTMAS COOKIE BOOK (1949).

I need to mention the Farm Journal’s HOMEMADE COOKIES compiled by the Food Journal’s food editors and published in 1971—back when I didn’t have hundreds of cookbooks, this was my favorite go-to cookbook for baking Christmas cookies. (In fact, we collected all of the Farm Journal cookbooks back then. I think it was my penpal Penny who got me started on those).

Years ago, the Junior League of the City of Washington published a book titled THINK CHRISTMAS (originally published in 1970 but often reprinted); the Junior League must have done well with their first effort since in 1983, they published JOY OF CHRISTMAS, both filled with great holiday entertainment ideas. One of my well thumbed and spattered Christmas cookbooks is titled TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS, compiled in 1974 by the Junior Women’s Group Pioneer Museum up in Stockton, California. I no longer remember where or how I found my copy which was already well worn and spattered when I acquired it – I DO know I have been making their recipe for Spinach Delight for over thirty years. Another favorite is THE GREATER CINCINNATI CHRISTMAS COOKBOOK compiled by the Greater Cincinnati Citizens Council in 1984; my sister Becky learned about it and we both invited to submit recipes—we both sent in many of our favorite Christmas recipes, congratulating ourselves for finding a way to get them all in one book. Of course, one downside to all of this is that some of your favorite recipes have a tendency to change from year to year. In 1984 I was making Texas fruitcake and “five pounds of fudge” while in more recent years I find myself reaching for the recipes of my youth—the Lebkuchen and Springerle my grandmother would make, or those wafer-thin Moravian Ginger cookies and Pfeffernusse.

More up to date Christmas cookbooks that you may want to search for might include CHRISTMAS WITH PAULA DEEN, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster, or The Goodhousekeeping little book THE GREAT CHRISTMAS COOKIE SWAP COOKBOOK, published in 2008 (and offering 60 large batch       recipes to cook and share) or you might want to look for a Favorite Brand Name 100 BEST HOLIDAY COOKIES published in 2007 by Publications International—both of these cookbooks are well illustrated with hidden spiral binding so they will lay flat on your kitchen counter. Personally, I don’t like having cookbooks in the kitchen so I usually copy the recipe on my  printer and stick it on the refrigerator door when I am baking.

Another 2007 cookbook is SANTA’S NORTH POLE COOKBOOK  by Jeff Guinn  who also wrote THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF SANTA CLAUS, HOW MRS CLAUS SAVED CHRISTMAS and THE GREAT SANTA SEARCH.

These are a few of my favorite Christmas cookbooks—there are so many more! And amongst my treasures are pamphlets and leaflets published by the various gas companies in many different states—some of these were very well done and are so collectible!

And then there are all the gift-giving cookbooks and candy-making cookbooks!  But I see this post has grown very lengthy!  However, before I close I wanted to let you know about previous “Christmassy” posts on my blog.

Look for –

Christmas is Right Around the Corner 9/13/09

Homemade Christmas Candies 9/20/09

Oh, Fudge! Making Christmas Candy 9/16/09

Make Mine Light – Fruitcake 10/1/09

It’s Christmas Cookie Time, posted 11/22/09

Christmas 2009 Cookies 12/31/09 (PHOTOS)

MEMORIES OF CHRISTMASES IN CINCINNATI (ARTICLE) 12/9/09

A Few of my Favorite Things, Part 2 Cookies 12/16/09

Christmas Memories 2010

Happy cooking and happy cookbook collecting—Sandy