Monthly Archives: April 2010


One of the things that often baffles the cook-in-the-kitchen, non-professionals such as ourselves are rather simple conversion issues.  You have ordinary white flour in the pantry – but the recipe calls for cake flour.  What do you do? Go back to the supermarket to buy cake flour?  Would you know how to convert regular flour into cake flour?

Or you are about to bake some chocolate chip cookies and you wonder how good your box of baking soda is. You wonder how long ago you bought the box of baking soda. Do you toss that box into the trash and go out to buy a new box of baking soda? Or do you know how to test the baking soda (or baking powder) to see if it’s still good?

You’re making up a batch of biscuits and the recipe calls for buttermilk, or sour milk. You don’t have either in the house. Do you go out and buy a container of buttermilk (all the while thinking that most of it is going to go to waste, because how often do you use buttermilk?)

Or you are planning to surprise your husband with an authentic Chinese dinner when you discover that Hoisin Sauce is a key ingredient. What do you do? Try to find an Asian market that has Hoisin Sauce?  OR will you make your own?

Or you have a recipe that calls for blanched almonds—but all you have on hand are raw almonds with the skins on. Do you know how to convert the raw almonds into blanched – or would you go out and BUY an expensive small packaged of blanched almonds?

One of the most fascinating things about cooking, I think, is discovering how to convert one product into another, such as ordinary flour into cake flour or ordinary flour into self-rising flour (yes, it can be done!).


Measure 1 level cup of flour.  Remove 2 tsp of the flour, and replace it with 1 ½ tsp baking powder and ½ tsp salt.


Measure 2 cups minus 2 TBSP flour. Add 2 tsp baking powder and 2 TBSP cornstarch. Sift all ingredients together.  You now have two cups of cake flour.


You will need two small bowls and some white vinegar. 

Pour 3-4 TBSP of vinegar into one of the bowls. Fill the other bowl with room temperature water.  Add ½ teaspoon of baking soda to the bowl containing the vinegar. Add the same amount of baking powder to the water bowl.  Each mixture should become fizzy. The one with baking soda and vinegar should produce a bigger fizz.  If they both work, mark the baking soda and the baking powder containers with the date. Check again in 6-12 months if you haven’t used them up.  If they don’t fizz, you need to buy a new box of baking powder or baking soda.


You will need:

24 TBSP soy sauce

12 TBSP peanut butter

6 TBSP honey or molasses or brown sugar (I used molasses)

12 tsp white vinegar

¾ tsp garlic powder

12 tsp sesame oil

120 drops Chinese hot sauce, Habanera or Jalapeno

¾ tsp black pepper

Mix it all together; at first it may not seem to want to mix but stick with it until it all combines.  Store in a tight fitting jar.

While you are at it, here’s how to make your own pickling spice mix:

You will need:

2 TBSP whole black peppercorns

2 TBSP coriander seeds

1 TBSP yellow mustard seeds

1 TBSP caraway seeds

1 TBSP fennel seeds

1 tsp whole cloves

1 tsp crushed bay leaves

1 tsp ginger powder

½ tsp cinnamon powder

Mix all ingredients; store in a tight fitting jar; store in a cool dark place.


Fill a medium size saucepan about halfway full of water and bring it to a boil.

Gently pour the whole skins-on almonds into the boiling water for about 30 seconds. Drain.  Grasp the warm almond between your thumb and forefinger and slide the skin off   the almond from the wide end of the nut.  You will get the hang of it after you’ve done a few.  Pat the almonds dry and store in the refrigerator.

When you need some sour milk or buttermilk for a recipe – and don’t have either on hand – you can add a small amount of white vinegar or lemon juice to regular milk; let it stand a little while – and voila!  You have sour milk. (Personally, I like to keep a container of buttermilk on hand all the time—it makes the best biscuits). 

Happy cooking!



Scrabble Fanatics

A while back, there was an article in one of my magazines written by someone who loves Scrabble and played with an old game that was missing some tiles. She said they made up cardboard ones to replace the missing tiles. I went bonkers and wrote a letter to the magazine (which, of course, they ignored). We have 3 or 4 Scrabble games in my house.

One time I bought a Scrabble game at a yard sale in Ohio for twenty five cents, just to take the tiles home with me. I left the game board behind. There is no excuse not to have all the tiles – you can even order missing ones from Scrabble.

The other day an article appeared in Parade magazine (the supplement that comes with our newspaper). Title is “My Family’s Scrabble Wars”. These Scrabble fanatics remind me of the women who write to cooking magazines confessing that they “read cookbooks like other people read novels”. Hello!?  All cookbook people read cookbooks like other people read novels. We have them stacked up alongside the bed with a couple of packages of post-its to mark the pages for recipes we want to try. When I tire of reading cookbooks I read something food related such as (right now) a book titled “Cather’s Kitchens” which I have been enjoying very much. It delves into all the comments and remarks Willa Cather made, in her novels, that related to food, recipes and kitchens in Nebraska during the period of time she was writing about.

But I digress.

Scrabble Fanatics.  The author of this latest Scrabble article says her children refuse to play with her now that they’re grown.  MY SON can’t wait to come to town (he lives in South Dakota) so that we can squeeze in as many Scrabble games as possible. He began to learn the game when he was eight years old and I did not “play down” because he was a child.  He would lie awake in bed memorizing words in an old unabridged dictionary.

We didn’t have all the Scrabble dictionaries and Word Builders back then. My granddaughter began learning the game when she was eight years old and she has just recently begun to hold her own and win. I always said “When you win, you will know you came by the win honestly – on your own”. She’s fifteen and we play Scrabble as often as we can, between her studies and softball.  And she’s winning her fair share of games.

But we have house rules (and I recommend house rules to anyone who plays this game a lot). Some of our house rules were adapted from friends’ house rules. My penpal in Oregon and her husband shared some of their house rules with me and we incorporated them into our house rules. One is, you can use any of the dictionaries to check on the spelling of a word – you just can’t use the dictionary to go fishing for a word. We have 4 Scrabble Dictionaries including the Onyx edition – plus a Taber’s Medical Dictionary – Plus an unabridged Oxford Dictionary – Plus a food dictionary  -plus, as a last resort – you can check with Google if you are pretty sure it’s a word and you can’t find it anywhere else. (Sometimes you’ll find it on Google when it’s no where else!).

Granted, no one challenges in our games. No one ever loses a turn.

In our house rules if you have 3 of the same vowel, you can toss one back and take another tile. Recently we amended that to 3 of the same of any letter. Another house rule is the blank – if you have a letter that represents the blank on the board, you can replace it with the letter and pick up the blank when it’s your turn – and then proceed with your turn. It keeps the blank going quite a lot longer.

The author of that last article wrote about having a notebook to keep their score records. We just keep all of our score sheets. I have one going back to 1991, a game with my brother Bill when he was here in California visiting. (Recently my granddaughter put all the old score sheets in order and put them into a file folder).  For, I come from a family of very competitive Scrabble players. Whenever I am in Ohio, you can bet there will be many Scrabble games with two of my brothers. My sister, her husband, and all three of their children are avid Scrabble players.

Our latest acquisition is the Super Deluxe Scrabble board.  It’s fantastic. It takes much longer to play a game; it’s twice the size with double all the tiles.. And yes, we have the travel Scrabble too.

Two years ago a penpal of mine came to California and we drove up the coast and to the Redwoods, then inland and to Yosemite. Every day, after we found a motel – we’d eat, fill up some wine glasses – and get out the Scrabble board. (I still have all of those score sheets too). It was the perfect way to unwind at the end of a day of traveling.

I am aware there are Scrabble games going on at Facebook. I’m not interested. I prefer the face to face interaction with another player (or two or three). And isn’t it wonderful that there IS something like a board game that–after 40 something years – is still going strong and provides entertainment and challenges.  (Whenever I win a game, I tell my granddaughter she’s helping me keep from getting senile or Alzheimer’s).

Well, I feel better now that I’ve gotten this off my chest. 

Scrabble, anyone?



It was a most unexpected find,
When I least expected it,
Years after my mother has passed away
And I was searching, one day,
For a recipe of hers
In her Ida Bailey Allen cookbook,
The only cookbook she ever owned
And from which I, in turn,
Learned to bake Hermits and old fashioned
Oatmeal cookies and Brownies and
Peanut butter cookies.
Scribbled notes on the margin
On a page in a book,
My mother’s handwriting –
I recognized it immediately
And felt a warm flush envelope me.
It was alongside a recipe for
Hungry Man’s cake-
The page itself stained and scorched
From being too close to the stove,
But on the margin she had written
“Pete’s favorite”
And I was like a hungry man myself,
Then, leafing through the book,
Page by page
Hoping to find more scribbled notes
On the margins of the pages
In her cookbook.
I didn’t find any more scribbled notes,
But more to the point,
What I wondered was –
Why didn’t I ever know it was
Daddy’s favorite cake?

–Sandra Lee Smith



It was a very old stove, a classic they said,
With knobs that were yellowed with age,
But the burners all worked and the broiler was fine,
It was one of the best in the trades.
Along one day came a fine Frigidaire
Round at the top and compact,
And the Wedgewood stove said with a gleam in his eye,
Would you all get a gander at that?
It was passionate love at very first sight,
Though no one could understand why,
For a stove always hot and a frig always cold
Would never quite see eye to eye.
She was cool and aloof, though down in her coils
She thought him quite big and so strong!
Why it took four or five employees just to move him,
Could a love between them be so wrong?
Well, along one day came an elderly couple
Searching for a stove such as he;
They happily paid the price on the sticker
And had it delivered at three.
But the stove was morose without Frigidaire
And none of his burners would light;
The couple went back to the store to complain
The owner said he’d make it all right;
So he had his employees deliver the frig,
And put it back next to the range.
The Wedgewood went back to working again;
Which proves just how love can be strange.

-Sandra Lee Smith

THE BEAN POT (a poem)


I bought a quaint brown bean pot
At a festival one day;
It had two handles and a lid
And it was made of clay.
Too pretty to be hidden in
A cupboard, tucked away,
I put it on the kitchen counter
For a decorative display.

Now, when we are missing buttons
Or a nail file or a pin;
We find the quaint brown bean pot
And we take a peek within;
It hoards the scraps of paper
Too important to discard–
With rubber bands and shoe strings
And a plumber’s business card;
A stamp pad and a book mark
And a tube of Elmer’s glue –
A recipe for pot roast and
Some body’s I O U.

Such a handy little catch-all
And it keeps the kitchen clean–
Hoarding trivia and trifles,
But…it’s never held a bean.

–Sandra Lee Smith (1960s)

OH DREARY DAY! (a poem)

Oh, dreary day, what can I do?
The pie got burnt, I’m in a stew!
I dropped some butter on the floor–
and then slipped on it, I implore–
I blew a fuse, the T.V. stopped,
the kids cried out–I blew my top!
The salesmen came, the salesmen went,
and all the cash I had was spent!
The bill collectors hounded me;
the cat got stuck up in a tree.
The plaster cracked–well, so did I–
the baby screamed and I did cry.
The bathroom flooded, what distress!
I burned a hole in my best dress!
I would have minded none of this–
I’m quite content with married bliss–
but then, my husband, sweet and true,
came home and said, “What did you

-Sandra Lee Smith
published in Home Life Magaine in 1961
This was the first poem I received payment for.



Our tea party was intended to be
Elegant and refined
With our best white tablecloths
Covering several small round tables,
And mama’s very best cloth napkins
And her best Noritaki china.
We had several small tea pots, one
For each table,
And watercress sandwiches,
With the crusts cut off.
I had bought two dozen
Petit fours at the bakery
That morning so I knew
They were fresh
And our guests would have
Their choice of several teas.
My sister and I had planned it down
To the last detail and
We were wearing our best spring dresses
And I my patent leather shoes.
Everything was ready for the guests to arrive.
No one knows to this day who was responsible for
leaving the back door open but the dogs
– those clumsy doltish golden retrievers
That my father loved so much – came barreling in
And while my sister and I screamed with horror
And dismay, the dogs tore through the
Dining room where the tables were set
Pulling tablecloths and china crashing to the floor.
Ruined! Everything ruined! My mother would
Never forgive us,
And my father maintained that the dogs
Didn’t know any better.
All we had left were the boxes of
Petit fours, on the kitchen counter,
Out of harm’s reach.
We swept up the broken glass
And made a pitcher of Kool-Aid
And we served petit fours on
Paper plates.
Our girlfriends thought it was a scream.
My mother never thought so.
Don’t even mention “tea party” in her

-Sandra Lee Smith

(I know you are going to ask so I will tell you ahead of time – not a word of it is true. My sister Becky and I were too far apart in ages – she was 4 yrs older than I – to ever do
anything like this together. We were worlds apart until I became an adult.)