Monthly Archives: January 2014

A RIVER RUNS BACKWARD

The title to the Junior League of Jacksonville, Florida’s cookbook A RIVER RUNS BACKWARD is based on a little known fact—that the hometown river of the St. John’s River is one of only two rivers flowing north in this hemisphere.
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(And, in case you are wondering—as I was—how or why those two rivers run backward, I learned from Google that “Unless the land is totally flat, rivers of water run downhill. The vast percentage of rivers on the planet flow in a southerly direction because the source (usually in the mountains) is to the north of the mouth. If the source of a river is at a higher elevation than the mouth, that river will run from the source to the mouth. However, if that (higher) source is to the south of the mouth, that river will then flow to the north (downhill).
**
And actually—if you start digging deeper—you will find there are numerous other examples of rivers in the USA flowing north instead of south. I found the following on Google:

“How can a river flow north?” the real estate lady asked me. ‘I mean, it’s impossible. The offending river, within whose watershed I proposed to buy a house, is the Wallkill. It rises in Northern New Jersey – near Sparta – and passes by Middletown, NY, and through Montgomery, Walden, the eponymous town of Wallkill, New Paltz, Rosendale, and finally (with a complication) drains into the Hudson River at Kingston, NY – approximately 100 miles north of its source….” (There is a lot more but I’ll leave those up to you to find out for yourselves…sls)

You are invited to tour the hometown river and beach communities of Jacksonville and Northeast Florida in the Junior League’s collection of regional recipes, area history and family memories.

I was especially captivated by the reproduction of many old-time photographs, especially one of the old St. John’s Lighthouse, the oldest building in Mayport, built in 1858, and learned that two earlier lighthouses were abandoned and removed due to “their perilous proximity to the ocean.” There are a number of other equally interesting illustrations, some of which appear to have possibly been reproduced from old post cards. Many have been provided by the Jacksonville Historical Society Archives.

Published by those creative people at the Wimmer Company, “A RIVER RUNS BACKWARD” is beautifully composed and printed—and easy to read (a must for me nowadays—if I can’t easily read the print in a cookbook, I won’t buy it.)

And, A RIVER RUNS BACKWARD is packed with a delectable collection of recipes; whether you fancy Madeline Maude’s Molasses Cookies (try saying that one five times real fast) or Nutmeg Ice Box cookies, Cinnamon Honey Squares, or Caramel Oat and Chocolate Bars (the nutmeg ice box cookies sounds like a good cookie recipe to add to your Christmas cookie baking list)—other sweet treats that sound enticing include a chocolate flan and a holiday sorbet made with fresh or frozen cranberries.

I tried Nancy’s Veggie relish and can personally vouch for it—plus, it’s easy to put together and lasts a long time in the frig—I was first introduced to this particular recipe by a girlfriend in Covina, California, who had relatives in the south – in Georgia and Florida. This recipe is well worth your time; keep it on hand as a standby relish or side dish.

I’m looking forward to trying Bourbon–Laced Sweet Potato Puree—I’ve been on a quest to find the perfect mashed sweet potato casserole—only please don’t top it off with marshmallows! I’ll try Grated Sweet Potato Souffle as soon as possible too.

What else sounds good to me? Asparagus with warm tomato Vinaigrette—I think it could be served as a salad or a side dish. The Glazed Red Cabbage which contains raspberry jam sounds delish to me too.

Also in the side dish category are several mouth watering Vidalia Onion recipes (if you are as partial to Vidalia Onions as I am!)

I have marked with post-its recipes for Chocolate Truffle Cake and Bunny’s Carrot Cake (I can’t wait to make this—finally!! A carrot cake that doesn’t contain two cups of cooking oil!) – and for next Christmas, I will be making MereMom’s Favorite Fruitcake—this recipe contains pecans, dates, candied cherries, candied pineapple—and no other candied fruit. I also found a recipe for Nutmeg Ice Box Cookies that is not in my ice box cookie collection.

Look for a great sounding Tortilla Soup recipe and something called Dragon’s Breath (also a soup!); Chutney Chicken salad and Pensacola Pasta Salad—the latter would make, I think, a fine addition to a holiday buffet.

Another fine feature of THE RIVER RUNS BACKWARDS is a
section of suggested party menus (the recipes, of course, can be found in the book).

Another little section is devoted to local restaurants with some of their specialty recipes; be sure to check out the steak marinade from the Beech Street Grill!

The Junior League of Jacksonville was formed in 1923 ; its charitable purpose has remained constant while its specific undertakings have met the challenges of each generation. At the time A RIVER RUNS BACKWARD was published in 1995, volunteers of the Junior League have focused on children’s issues, teen pregnancy and literacy. One project, the Family Visitation Center, developed in conjunction with the HRs and the Children’s Home Society, provides a homelike atmosphere for parents and other relatives to have supervised visits with their children in foster care. With each endeavor.

The League strives to encourage and celebrate a healthy community. The Junior League of Jacksonville was proud to present their unique and delicious collection of recipes to share with all those who enjoy a passion for cooking, tempting aromas, and memorable parties. They urge us to allow their river of recipes to flow back towards us.
Along with the many recipes, presented in a hidden spiral binding, there are reproductions of old black and white photographs including a copy of an 1858 Mayport Lighthouse and Keeperes residence from a 1900 photograph shared by the Beaches Area Historical Society Archives.

A RIVER RUNS BACKWARD is available on Amazon.com; you can order a new copy for $11.66 or a pre-owned copy starting at $1.01.

And, If you are interested, the Junior League of Jacksonville published an earlier cookbook in 1982, titled Jacksonville & Company. I think the price of a new copy (starting at $ 51.69) is another example of overpricing, but pre-owned copies start at $5.50 or a collectible copy is listed at $8.77. Jacksonville & Company was priced at $12.00 when published in 1982. This cookbook is also a fine example of well-thought out publishing; it was printed by a company in Memphis that I am not familiar with—but it’s a nice thick cookbook!

–Review by Sandra Lee Smith

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A TASTE FOR ALL SEASONS/Unique Dessert Recipes

“A TASTE FOR ALL SEASONS”, subtitled “Unique Dessert Recipes” really is unique. It is a thick spiral bound cookbook, entirely devoted to desserts – because, the authors explain, “Eat Dessert First Because Life is so Uncertain”

Isn’t that the truth? I remember one time that my sister Becky and I were in Florida visiting our mother who by then was pretty mind-muddled from Alzheimer’s; we were in a restaurant that had a buffet style menu—you could pretty much eat whatever you wanted. Our mother had in front of her a piece of pie and began eating it first. Becky asked, “Mom, why are you eating dessert first?” and mom, looking cagily at us, replied, “That’s so no one can take it away from me.” (that was an early indication that she wasn’t getting enough to eat—but that is another story for another time).

“A Taste for all Seasons” was published to honor all the thousands of children who bravely face illness every year. It was especially dedicated to Jenny Jacobs, “whose courage in the face of such adversity has given me the inspiration to put this cookbook together” writes the author, adding, “The money collected from the sale of each book will be donated to a worthy children’s charity”

I have no idea how many recipes are in this cookbook (I think there are over 350) – but there’s quite a lot—a lot of cookie recipes, dozens of cakes and pies, lots of traditional desserts such as the trifle illustrating the front of the cookbook, but muffins and breads and a lot of other sweet treats as well. This could easily become your #1 “go to” cookbooks when you need a dessert recipe—more than three dozen listed in the index on each page—lots of bar cookies, such as Carrot & Zucchini Bars, Chocolate Caramel Nut bars, Chewy Chocolate Bars and Peanut Butter & Fudge Brownies. Other peanut butter cookie recipes include Chunky Peanut Butter Cookies, and the traditional Peanut Blossom cookies. (I keep a lot of peanut butter on hand—I stock up on it when it’s on sale—because it’s always a great snack with saltine crackers, or the primary ingredient in a sweet treat).

There are also a lot of recipes with chocolate in them—and who doesn’t love chocolate? From Chocolate Chip Cookies to Chocolate Revel Bars, there are Chocolate Maroon Squares and Fudge Cream Cheese Brownies, Chocolate filled Snowballs and Chocolate Cherry Bars.

Amongst the many recipes for cakes there are many of the traditional tried and true recipes such as Carrot Cake, pound cake, Orange Date Cake and Chocolate Cake Roll – but a lot of other ones I don’t remember seeing anywhere else before—Velvet Almond Fudge Cake, Waldorf Astoria Cake, Aunt Eva’s Texas Sheet Cake and Hawaiian Pineapple Cake, one called Heavenly Hash Cake (that sounds decadent!) and Real Hungarian Strudel—this is a wonderful surprise; most recipes for strudel today call for a package of Filo dough that is available in supermarket freezer cases.

The recipe in “A Taste for All Seasons” is strudel dough made from scratch, something I haven’t seen since my grandmother stopped making strudel in her kitchen, probably a year or two before she died. This recipe provides the ingredients for making cherry strudel—which we grew up on, along with apple strudel and a wonderful pumpkin strudel that I have never been able to duplicate or find a recipe that sounds like what we ate.

Then there are a plethora of recipes we really think of as “dessert” dishes – a Nectarine and Orange trifle, Tropical Trifle, Fruit Trifle, Black Forest Trifle—need I say more?

I wanted to share a recipe from A Taste for All Seasons with you – and have selected “Trifle” – to make a Trifle you will need:

2 or 3 lb pound cakes sliced, frozen, ¼” thick
32 oz apricot preserves
1 large and 1 small Cool Whip
1 package (4 containers) Swiss Miss vanilla pudding
1 ½ to 2 quarts fresh strawberries, sliced
4 to 6 bananas, slices

Arrange in layers in glass trifle dish or a large brandy snifter:

Layer following:
Cake, apricot preserves, strawberries, bananas, ½ cool whip
Repeat twice topping with remaining cool whip. Decorate with whole strawberries Chill.

The main reason I chose this trifle recipe is because I discovered some years ago that you can use leftover cake or cookies, almost any kind of preserves—I would use up small amounts of different preserves to finish them off including strawberry preserves. When you have reached the top of the dessert dish, cover it with plastic wrap and chill in the frig at least a few hours or even overnight.
(if only adults will be eating your trifle, you can also splash the pound cake or whatever cake you are using with a little Triple Sec or any other liqueur you may have on hand.

I made the best trifle of my life using up leftover cookies and cake after one of our Christmas parties, and then served it on New Year’s day. If you prefer, you can make vanilla pudding from scratch or make it with a box of instant pudding. There are a lot of ways to put a trifle together using up what you have on hand. It will look very pretty and everyone will love it. – sls

It took a lot of searching on Amazon.com to find at least one copy listed and that was on the 3rd page of titles – many different books with the same, or almost the same, title. You need to look for “A Taste for all Seasons, Unique Dessert Recipes” by Phyllis Diamond. The one I found on Amazon is listed at $15.00. This is a great book to have in a cookbook collection.

–Review by Sandra Lee Smith

STILL JANUARY AND COLD EVERYWHERE

MAKING CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
(When it’s cold, bake cookies)

According to the weather reports, the only warm place in the USA is Florida, so if you are in Florida and not feeling the cold, you may skip this blog post if you don’t want to have your oven on-—then again, this is a good cookie recipe!

Some time ago, I found an article in the Food Network magazine featuring several different chocolate chip cookie recipes. I hedged, at first –how do you improve on perfection? And isn’t the Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe on the bags of Nestle’s morsels the perfect recipe. Well, yessss, maybe – and you can even tweak that recipe if you are so inclined. I learned a baking secret from a girl at work years ago – she made the Nestle’s Toll House cookies but under baked them. This takes some time to get it exactly right – too underdone and the cookies will be doughy. But get them just right and bet you can’t eat just one.

Well, I was reading the chocolate chip cookie article some time later and decided to try the different recipes—do my own taste testing. The first one I tried is a crispy chocolate chip cookie recipe (and it really helps to have the color photographs of the cookies to look at).

To make the crispy chocolate chip cookies you will need

1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 stick unsalted butter, softened (it will soften faster if you cut the stick of butter into small pieces)
¼ cup vegetable oil (I use Canola)
1 cup superfine sugar*
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract and 1 tsp water (a shot glass with these two items placed into it is a good way to measure the ingredients without spilling anything, if you tend to spill things the way I do—and this particular shot glass belonged to Chef Louis Szathmary, so I use it for good luck!)
2 large eggs at room temperature (they will warm up faster in warm water)
1 ½ cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. I use parchment paper and line several baking sheets with it.

Whisk the flour, salt, and baking soda in a medium size bowl.

Beat the butter, vegetable oil, superfine sugar and brown sugar in a mixing bowl at medium speed until creamy, about 5 minutes. (Set the timer for 5 minutes and go do something else). The mixture will look a bit separated at this point. Beat in 1 teaspoon water and the 1 tsp vanilla extract until smooth. Reduce the mixer speed and beat in the eggs one at a time until just incorporated (do not overbeat). Beat in the flour mixture until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand.

Drop tablespoons of dough onto the prepared baking sheets (I use cookie scoops and didn’t use the biggest one but the one next to that, and scraped the dough to remove any excess—this way all the cookies were the same size). Bake until golden brown, rotating the baking sheets halfway through. The original recipe says to bake 20 minutes. I discovered the hard way that 20 minutes burns mine**. I have it down to 12 minutes, rotating 2 baking sheets at 6 minutes and also turning them front to back. Cool the baked cookies completely on the baking sheets before removing.

• I didn’t have superfine sugar on hand, so I poured 2 cups of granulated sugar in the blender and blended it for a short time.

• Oven temperatures can vary; my youngest son works for an appliance store and tells me that new stoves and have a variance of 50 degrees plus or minus and still be considered acceptable–and I discovered the hard way that being 3,000 ft above sea level can also affect baking time. I still haven’t figured out a way to make candy without having it burn. Vest solution is an oven thermometer and for making candy, a candy thermometer is a must.

Inasmuch as I am a glutton for punishment, I doubled the recipe last night so that I could make half “without ingredients” (in my family, ingredients are anything extra—like pecans, white chips or peanut butter chips.) The second half were baked with pecans and peanut butter chips added to the dough. These won’t spread as much as the batch “without ingredients” but were still very tasty.
I’m still conducting taste tests on the cookies. Either one is very good with a glass of cold milk! —Sandra Lee Smith

PS – some Smith family history; when son Steve was about 6 years old, he was reading the label on a can of soup and exclaimed, “Mom! Do you know, this soup has INGREDIENTS in it?”

GOING OFF TO COLLEGE, JANUARY, 2014

When Savannah was born, on October 22, 1994, she was the first born of my grandchildren—and I was thrilled to finally have a little girl in my life.

From my journals, I wrote “October 22, 1994, Saturday – my first grandchild – a GIRL – was born at 11 am this morning. Her name is Savannah Marie…Kelly & Keara went to the hospital last night – but they had so many false alarms – I didn’t try to get to Palmdale til this morning. I got Jim to drive me and we arrive about 5 minutes before the baby was born. (at 11) and I wasn’t allowed in. Sara her sister and Kelly were with her. The baby has been in an incubator since she was born – at first they said she was breathing too fast and they were running tests & implied to Keara that maybe the baby had Down Syndrome or something. The kids have been frightened out of their wits. Linda brought me back to the house (I can’t think anymore). Kelly stayed at the hospital. We’ve gone back and forth so many times.

October 26 1994-Today is Bob’s birthday. Savannah is 4 days old and seems to be doing fine, according to the kids.
From a letter to Bev dated December, 1994 – “…what a year this has been. Most important to us was the recent birth of my first grandchild-a grand DAUGTHER who was born October 22nd. Her name is Savannah Marie Smith; her parents are Kelly & Keara…at one month of age she is up to a little over 8 lbs. We are all smitten, of course, and think she is the greatest thing to come along since sliced bread. Kelly has me amazed; he changes diapers, feeds the baby, does everything for the baby.

Savannah had a hard time getting here and when she was born, had the cord wrapped twice around her neck; they kept her in an incubator the first 24 hours and kept her in the hospital an extra day because she was having some respiratory problems. We all spent some anxious hours while they ran tests and checked her out. She was about 3 weeks early and Keara had a long and hard labor. No doubt she would have had to have a Caesarian if the baby had been full term. The hospital staff said she would have been more like 8½ – 9 lbs. I spent that weekend out at Kelly’s home in Lancaster then went back the following weekend and cooked a small turkey for the kids…”

From a letter to Bev, written in March, 1995, “I am beginning to think it would be more likely that I would move to Lancaster after I retire – to be near my granddaughter. …the baby is smiling and cooing… Keara swears she says “hi”. Well you know doting mothers. She does babble and has a cute smile. Her mother says she isn’t the princess of ALMOST everything, it’s just everything. She sure is going to be daddy’s girl though…Oh, I kept Savannah overnight for the first time a few weeks back. She took a bottle and went to sleep in my bed at 11 pm and slept til 7 am! At 9 am, up pulls Kelly’s truck and they both jump out and dash in. I shushed them at the door – the baby had just gone back to sleep. They were kind of put out, I think, that she slept all night. Said “oh, well, it must be because she was coming down with a cold”. (Don’t they have that backwards?) That baby knew she was in grammy’s bed!..”

So, that was the beginning of my role being Grammy. As time went by, however, I found it next to impossible to get Savannah to warm up to me. Her parents would say “oh, well, it’s because she’s so shy” – but she wasn’t shy with her Nana, Keara’s mother, or a lot of other people. She and I did make cookies together when she was two years old and we bonded best if no one else was around. Still, she remained aloof with me, despite my best efforts, –until her brother was born in 2002.

From my journal dated 2004, I wrote “Christmas Eve day, Kelly & Keara came down early so that they could go visit his dad – Ethan pitched a fit and didn’t want to go—the last time they were down here, Ethan didn’t want to leave and cried most of the way home. so I said …oh, leave him with me & they did. He is grammy’s boy! I think Savannah may be a little put out about it but Keara explained to her that she was always Nana’s girl (Keara’s mother) and didn’t grow close to me until a few years ago. It’s very meaningful to me that at last I have a grandchild who is “all mine”. They left and I put Teletubbies on for Ethan; he patted the couch next to him and said “Sit here with me, grammy” so I did & I burned some of the rice but what the heck.

Savannah was perplexed that Ethan wanted to stay with me instead of going to see his grandpa Jim. She asked her mother why Ethan wanted to stay with me. Keara said “Well, remember how you always wanted to stay with Nana? Now Ethan wants to stay with Grammy” – and quite possibly my granddaughter deduced that maybe she was missing out on something. 

That was really when Savannah began warming up to me and by this time there were several other grandchildren and we began doing a Christmas cookie & craft project (as well as Easter cookie craft, Valentine’s Day cookie & craft and Halloween cookie & craft). Even so, I don’t think Savannah and I grew really close until Bob and I moved to the Antelope Valley in 2008. I drove her and a couple girlfriends to and from school several days a week; we began baking cupcakes and cookies—and when she was eight I began teaching her how to play Scrabble. By the time she was 18, she could beat almost anyone at Scrabble – except, maybe, Uncle Steve. After Grandpa Bob passed away in 2011, Savannah spent more and more time at my house. We took our first vacation together in 2007, flying to South Dakota to see Uncle Steve & Aunt Lori; in 2012, we returned to Sioux Falls to spend another week with my son and daughter-in-law but also so Savannah could resume her friendship with a neighbor girl, Elizabeth, with whom Savannah became acquainted in 2007. (Before planning the 2012 vacation, I gave her an option—the trip was to be a graduation present – did she want to go to South Dakota—or would she rather go to Hawaii? She chose South Dakota.

By this time my granddaughter had grown into a beautiful young lady, smart and pretty, warm and friendly; she had a host of boy and girl friends throughout the 4 years of high school. Sometimes we went clothes shopping and sometimes we went to the Barnes & Noble bookstore. These past two years, she’s had her driver’s license so she began chauffeuring me to and from some of my doctor or other medical related appointments.

As I type these words, she is with her father and mother, brother, and Auntie Sara, who are accompanying her to Sacramento, where she has an apartment waiting along with a new roommate-they left here this morning, a caravan – Savannah and her mother in Savannah’s car, her father and brother in her father’s pickup truck (loaded with a washer and dryer for the two girls) and her aunt driving her SUV. I doubt that I will see her until April, on spring break.
She came by this morning to say goodbye and tell me she loved me. I waited until she left to shed the tears I have been holding back for the past few days. Three months seems so far away – just as the three months leading up to this very day seemed a long way off.

SAVANNAH IS HER NAME

Isn’t it amazing how fast by the years have flown,
From infancy to woman, just look how much you’ve grown;
From a little girl in pigtails who was learning how to read,
From toddler to teenager, we’ve watched you take the lead.
You were always Grandpa’s favorite, and he called you “Littlebit”
Because he knew you’d be outstanding in whatever life that fit –
I know he’d be proud of you, in whatever curves life throws you,
And would say it’s been a pleasure just for him to know and love you;
And I feel the very same way, as we watched your life unfold—
If you’d been a gymnast, you would always take the gold,
But where ever life may lead you, whether here or far away,
Remember that I love you, far more than I can ever say.
My girl is going to college—life won’t ever be the same–
Watch out world, she’s coming and Savannah is her name.

–Sandra Lee Smith (AKA GRAMMY), January 3, 2014

COOKIES FOR JANUARY, 2014–OATMEAL RAISIN COOKIES

We spend a lot of time thinking about and preparing cookies from October (Halloween cookies) through November (Thanksgiving themed cookies) to December (Christmas cookies). Then by January, most of the Christmas cookies have been eaten – or all that is left in the tin are broken cookies and some crumbs). The one exception to this was Bob’s hoarding his tin of Springerle that I’d break down and bake every few years—knowing full well he would let them get stale and rock-hard but he’d dunk them in coffee anyway.

Springerle, for the uninitiated are cookies with designs imprinted on the dough with a Springerle rolling pin or board, and then left to dry out overnight. When baked the next day, they will look frosted, like a two-tier cookie. This is a German cookie that goes back probably several hundred years. I used to have a penpal who collected the Springerle boards and rolling pins. I have one small rolling pin and a board with the designs which can be very simple or elaborate.

I thought I’d check with Google and see what else I can tell you about Springerle , from “What’s Cooking in America”

BRIEF HISTORY OF SPRINGERLE
“Springerle (SPRING-uhr-lee) – These have been and still are traditional Christmas cookies in Bavaria and Austria for centuries. Springerle are white, anise-flavored cookies, made from a simple egg-flour-sugar dough. Usually rectangular or circular in shape, they have a picture or design stamped on the top. The images are imprinted with specially carved rolling pins or flat molds (Springerle presses, or boards). After the cookies are baked, the designs are sometimes enhanced with edible food colors–or with tempera or acrylic paints, if the cookies are to be used as decorations. Hartshorn is the traditional leavening (it is an ammonia compound).

History: The name Springerle comes from an old German dialect and means “little knight” or “jumping horse.” Historians trace these cookies back to the Julfest, a midwinter celebration of pagan Germanic tribes. Julfest ceremonies included the sacrificing of animals to the gods, in hope that such offerings would bring a mild winter and an early spring. Poor people who could not afford to kill any of their animals gave token sacrifices in the form of animal-shaped breads and cookies. Vestiges of these pagan practices survive in the baking of shaped-and-stamped German Christmas cookies such as Lebkuchen, Spekulatius, Frankfurter Brenten, and Springerle.”
This is a good example of how I can easily get off track or digressing—what I want to write about today are cookies you might want to make for January. The most favorite cookie of my youngest son and his family are chocolate chip cookies – a lot of chips can go into the batter but no nuts! (This cramps my style occasionally because I love nuts, especially pecans, in my chocolate chip dough—sometimes when there is just enough dough left for half a dozen cookies, I add walnuts or pecans and keep those aside for me to eat).

I began making Toll House chocolate chip cookies when I was a teenager. When I was 12 or 13, my brother Jim was working part-time with Durkee foods which had a warehouse in Camp Washington; Jim often brought home foodstuffs that were going to be thrown out—canned biscuits was a family favorite; they would often pop open as soon as you began to open the tin; we didn’t care. I often made doughnuts with the canned biscuits. The only other thing I have a vivid memory of making were some packaged chocolate chip cookie mixes; I think all you had to add was water—possibly an egg or two. I imagine these were also outdated products and the mix must have been taken off the market because I don’t remember our getting boxes of outdated mix very long. Or it may have happened that Jim stopped working at the Durkee warehouse where one of our uncles worked as a salesman—when Jim graduated from high school, he immediately enlisted in the Air Force. Then I had to make chocolate chip cookies from scratch—but I also remember making peanut butter cookies, old-fashioned raisin cookies or oatmeal raisin cookies—recipes that were in my mother’s Service Cook Book by Ida Bailey Allen. Inexplicably, that was my mother’s only cookbook, kept in a kitchen drawer—but it was published exclusively for Woolworth’s which may explain why it was there at all. I don’t remember ever being in a 5-and-10 cent store with my mother—if I was with her shopping downtown at all, we visited department stores, such as Lerner’s. When I was old enough to go downtown by myself, my mother would have me make the trips for her. I began going downtown to make payments at Lerner’s for a coat my mother had in layaway—and although I remember making those trips—I was perhaps ten at the time—I don’t remember making the final trip to pick up her coat. She must have done that without my assistance.

In order to make any cookies, I had to find a recipe for which we had all of the ingredients on hand. We almost always had oatmeal, raisins, Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa and basic ingredients such as flour, baking powder or baking soda, eggs and sugar on hand in the pantry.
All of this may explain my love for making cookies—it brings back many memories of my childhood. My two younger brothers, Biff (aka George) and Bill sat on the back steps outside the kitchen door and waited for anything—over baked cookies, for instance.

So, maybe Oatmeal Raisin cookies should be MY choice for January, 2014. When all the special holiday cookies have been eaten or too stale to eat and therefore given to the birds, oatmeal raisin cookies are a good cookie to refill the cookie jar with.

Favorite oatmeal raisin cookies

2 cups sifted flour
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
2 2/3 cup packed brown sugar or half brown & half white granulated
4 eggs
1 ½ c. Crisco shortening (original recipe) or 1 ½ c. butter spread
2 tsp vanilla
4 cups uncooked old-fashioned oatmeal
2 c raisins or a combination of raisins and dried cranberries
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Sift flour with soda and spices. Now add shortening, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Beat till smooth, about 2 minutes. Stir in oatmeal, nuts and raisins. Bake by heaping tsp onto parchment lined cookie sheets. Bake 12-15m minutes makes about 7 dozen cookies depending on the size. ***
I had been baking batch after batch of oatmeal cookies trying to find the recipe in which the cookies spread very thin and turn out crispy and crunchy—voila! I found it one night in one of my notebooks. I was pretty sure this was the recipe and immediately started putting the ingredients out on the counter. I was so pleased when they came out of the oven – crispy and crunchy and very thin. I think I made these cookies last Christmas, dipping half of each cookie into melted chocolate to make Florentines. I was eating them all by myself .

Towards the end of my baking, I wondered if I chopped walnuts and dried cranberries into very small pieces, would the cookies still spread thin? They DID!

So if a crispy crunchy thin oatmeal cookie is something you would like to try, here it is:

1 ½ cups old fashioned oats
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cinnamon
8 TBSP (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
6 TBSP apple butter*
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
3 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium size bowl, combine oats, flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, blend butter, apple butter, and sugars until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla. Blend. Add the oat mixture and mix until blended. Drop batter, about 2 tbsp at a time (I use a cookie scoop) onto parchment-paper lined baking sheets. Bake 18 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven; cool slightly on baking sheet, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

*I didn’t have any apple butter. But I do have jars of homemade apple sauce on hand (any kind of apple sauce should do) – I dumped a quart of apple sauce into a crockpot and added some brown sugar and molasses. I let it cook down on medium, with the lid off, until it was thick.
To make a fancier holiday cookie, melt chocolate and dip the baked and cooled cookies halfway in. I have a Wilton Melting Chocolate pot and it’s wonderful for keeping melted chocolate at the right temperature. (Pick one up when you have a 40 or 50 percent off coupon—it’s the best time to get yourself one. My daughter in law loved mine so much that she bought chocolate pots for herself and her sisters last year, after using mine.

*One more note: this recipe says bake 18 minutes. Well, by trial and error, I have learned that what may be 18 minutes at sea-level will burn to a crisp in the high desert. These cookies baked completely in 12-13 minutes where we are (3000 ft altitude) – I can’t tell you how many sheets of cookies or batches of candy I burned the first couple of years living in the Antelope Valley. When I was making pralines, 234 degrees on a candy thermometer is too much at this altitude—I had to get the candy off the stove a lot sooner. I couldn’t believe that our mere “3000 ft elevation” could make that much difference—but it does. Just sharing that with you.

There are many recipes for oatmeal raisin cookies but the two above shared with you are my absolute favorites. Chocolate Chip cookies are next, for February!

–Sandra Lee Smith

THE SOUP BIBLE

“Beautiful soup so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen
Who for dainties would not stoop
Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!”
–the Mock Turtle in Alice in Wonderland

THE SOUP BIBLE FROM PUBLICATIONS INTERNATIONAL, published in 2010, appears to be a group effort with no one person receiving top accolades; the CEO of the company, Louis Weber, is listed on the copyright.

This was a Christmas present from Auntie Sara and Nana, my daughter in law’s sister and mother—it always amazes me when someone gifts me with a cookbook I don’t have! I love soup cookbooks—but then, I really love making different kinds of soup. I tend to go overboard and end up with too much soup but freeze the excess in one of those two-quart Glad plastic containers that are perfect size when frozen. If you pop the frozen sop out of the container and re-store it in a plastic freezer bag, then you can write on the bag with a Sharpee pen as to the contents. I give “bricks” like these to my girlfriend Mary Jaynne, who lives in Pine Mountain (about an hour and a half north of me) – MJ no longer cares if she cooks or not so they welcome the soups. And in return, she does all my mending. It’s a great barter system.

Over the New Year’s Eve and Day, I made two pots of soup – partly to use up some leftovers from company dinners and partly because it feels like soup weather. One pot contains Beef Taco Tortilla Soup and the other is Vegetable Beef & Barley.

Yesterday, though, I put all the leftover meat and the bones from a prime rib roast into my pressure cooker and let the contents cook for about an hour. When I was finished, and had removed the bones—I had over a quart, maybe two, of well cooked beef as well as about 3 quarts of beef stock. Once it was chilled, I could easily remove the fat.

I love homemade soup stocks – it has so much potential. And what can be more satisfying than a bowl of hot soup on a cold winter day or night? With a few Saltine crackers and a couple slices of some Tillamook cheese, I’m ready to settle down for dinner while watching Jeopardy! Or Wheel of Fortune. I also make my own dried tortilla strips from flour tortillas, a few stacked together and cut into strips, they dry out in no time on a cookie sheet in my oven, which has a pilot light always lit. There are some advantages to having an old stove.

One thing I really like about the new Soup Bible is that the recipes are generally not too long or convoluted and each is accompanied by a photograph of the connecting recipe.

(I have another Soup Bible by Debra Mayhew—it may interest you to know that a book title cannot be copyrighted so oftentimes you will find several, albeit different, cookbooks with the same title). My other Soup Bible is a large book and not always the handiest to work with in the kitchen. The new Soup Bible cookbook was a compilation by the editors of Favorite Brand Name Recipes).

Since I did make a pot of beef taco tortilla soup the other day, I turned to recipes for Turkey Taco Soup, Chicken Tortilla Soup and Tortilla Soup with Grouper. (Grouper is a nice white fish available in Florida but not California, so I would suggest using any kind of mild white fish with this recipe).

There are many quick and easy recipes in The Soup Bible—catching my attention is CHEESY MEXICAN SOUP, SWEET POTATO BISQUE WITH GINGER. And BLACK & WHITE MEXICAN BEAN SOUP and ALBONDIGAS SOUP! Oh, and POTATO SPINACH SOUP WITH GOUDA! What fun it will be to try all these new and different recipes.

Years ago, my girlfriend, Mandy, and I frequently made up a pot of soup over the weekend and then would bring jars of it to work to reheat (to the chagrin of other employees in the kitchen at the same time). We often experimented with new or different recipes. Oftentimes, when I brought a jar of soup to work with us, she’d show up with something different but invariably something that complimented the soup. We frequently speculated that we could have gone into business at the office (or some of the other offices nearby) selling soup and a sandwich to other employees.

The Soup Bible by the Editors of Favorite Brand Name Recipes is available on Amazon.com. The Soup Bible by Editors of Favorite Brand Name Recipes (Sep 8, 2010) can be yours for $7.35 new, or starting at 6.43 pre-owned.

My thanks to Auntie Sara and Nana for the inspiration to write this review on the 2nd day of January, 2014.
Review by Sandra Lee Smith

Counting down to New Year’s Eve 2013

In California at almost 9 a.m., it’s a sunny morning on December 31st. I think of my Australian friends and penpals who are twelve hours ahead of us (I hope I got that right) – and in Great Britain, I believe they are six hours ahead of California (or maybe it’s nine hours) where I have a penpal in England, —I tried googling this information but am getting different answers. Per Google, we can be 12 to 17 hours behind Australia.

Well, I am on the west coast in California, and my Aussie penpals are in western Australia, near Perth. (I will have to send out some emails to penpals before I post this!) – Time zones have always perplexed me—although I am well aware of the three hours ahead the east coast and my relatives and friends are in Florida. My son in South Dakota is 2 hours ahead of us – and here in California we are 3 hours behind New York—where I have another penpal in Ithaca, New York.

Speaking of penpals, my penpal Bev and her husband Leroy are on their way here from mid-Oregon. Bev and I became penpals in 1974; together we’ve watched our children grow up, marry, and become parents, making us grandparents. We will have a prime rib roast for dinner and then play some Scrabble.

Two other long-time penpals have been with me through thick and thin—and me with them; along with Bev, my penpal, Betsy, lives in Michigan and the other, Eileen, is in Western Australia in a retirement community. Those two penpals became my correspondence friends in 1965.

That isn’t really what I intended to write about when I sat down to wish my Sandychatter friends a Happy New Year where ever you are. Last year my Oregon friends and I celebrated with a traditional New Year’s Eve dinner of sauerkraut and sausages.

Let me share some thoughts about traditional New Year’s eve/day foods for good luck and prosperity:

NEW YEAR’S EVE & NEW YEAR’S DAY MEALS FOR GOOD LUCK
Throughout most of written history, we know that people have eaten certain foods on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, hoping for riches, love, or other good fortune. For people of some nationalities, ham or pork has long been considered the luckiest thing to eat on New Year’s Day. You might wonder how the pig became associated with the concept of good luck but in Europe during medieval times, wild boars were caught in the forests and killed on the first day of the year. Since pigs are associated with plumpness and getting plenty to eat, it might be one explanation for having pork on New Year’s Day.

Austrians, Swedes, and Germans frequently chose pork or ham for their New Year’s meal and brought this tradition with them when they came to America. Germans and Swedes often picked cabbage as a lucky side dish and in my parents’ home, pork and sauerkraut was served at midnight on New Years Eve, along with mashed potatoes and creamed peas. (It might not have been so lucky, going to bed after eating such a hearty meal as after midnight!)

Turkey is considered lucky in some countries; Bolivians and residents in New Orleans follow this custom. Fish is considered lucky food by people in the northwestern part of the United States who may eat salmon. Some Germans and Poles eat herring, which may be served in a cream sauce or pickled. Other Germans eat carp.

Sometimes sweets or pastries are eaten for luck. In the colony of New Amsterdam, now New York, the Dutch settlers still enjoy these treats. Germans often ate doughnuts while the French have traditionally celebrated with pancakes. In some places, a special cake is made with a coin baked inside. (Curiously, my German grandmother fried doughnuts with a coin inside each – on the Feast of the Three Kings, or the Epiphany, celebrated January 6th). Such cakes are traditional in Greece, which celebrates Saint Basil’s Day and New Year’s at the same time. The Saint Basil’s Day cake is made of yeast dough and flavored with lemon. The person who gets the slice with the silver or gold coin is considered very lucky!

Many of the luck-bringing foods are round or ring-shaped, because this signifies that the old year has been completed. Black-eyed peas are an example of this, and they are part of one of New Year’s most colorful dishes, Hoppin’ John, which is eaten in many southern states. Hoppin’ John is made with black-eyed peas or dried red peas, combined with hog jowls, bacon, or salt pork. Rice or other vegetables may be added. The children in the family might even hop around the table before the family sits down to eat this lucky dish.

In Brazil, lentils are a symbol of prosperity, so lentil soup or lentils with rice is traditional for the first meal of the New Year.

Thousands of miles away, the Japanese observe their New Year’s tradition of eating a noodle called toshikoshi soba. (This means “sending out the old year.”) This buckwheat noodle is quite long, and those who can swallow at least one of them without chewing or breaking it are supposed to enjoy good luck and a long life. (Or maybe the luck might be not choking on the long noodle!)

In Portugal and Spain people have an interesting custom. When the clock strikes midnight, people in these countries eat twelve grapes or raisins to bring them luck for all twelve months of the coming year.

The ancient Romans gave gifts of nuts, dates, figs, and round cakes. Northern Italians began the new year eating lentils to symbolize coins. In the Piedmont region of Italy, the New Year’s Day meal of risotto signified 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”.

Last year, I posed this question – special foods to welcome in the New Year – to some friends. Lorraine wrote that at her mother’s they always had Menudo on New Years; she says her friend Geri always has Black Eyed Peas. My friend Patti who lives in Cincinnati wrote “Sauerkraut, Limburger cheese & Pickled Pigs Feet…I did not partake”.
Penpal Penny who lives in Oklahoma wrote “Here on New Year’s Day ……black-eyed peas and hog jowl……for good luck, greens…..for financial good luck then of course you have to have cornbread and fried potatoes. I always fix slaw though any kind of greens will do. You just want to make sure you eat PLENTY of both of the peas and greens!! Good ole poke salad ( or as the old timers would say…. poke salit ) would be wonderful with it….some years I’ve lucked out and found plenty in the spring and had a bag or two in the freezer.”

And girlfriend Sylvia wrote, “We eat black eyed peas!! I think that is a southern thing…”

From my penpal Bev, in Oregon, I received this email, “My family had no New Years Eve or day traditions…When I was 40 became acquainted with a shy, soft spoken…gal when I went to Chemeketa Community College. She was taking classes as background for writing. and had in her mind a book she wanted to write…To my surprise, she was a member of MENSA. That was probably the first time I had ever heard of that elite society. Anyway, she and her husband invited us to their home for New Years Day, and served some type of beans. Seems to me it was limas. Have you heard of that before? This couple had lived in Japan but I can’t imagine beans being a good luck dish from that part of the world…” (In a subsequent email Bev decided it might have been black-eyed peas they were served).

Email penpal, Marge, wrote “My grandmother was a first generation American born of German immigrants in Nebraska. While that was not our usual New Year’s fare, we ate sauerkraut often especially in the winter time, and she used pork tails in hers often and often pork ribs while she cooked the kraut. I rarely make sauerkraut though Dorman likes it. I know some people make (sauerkraut) with bratwurst sausage…”

Chris, a member of a support email group I belong to, wrote “As far as New Year’s Eve, I remember my grandpa always bringing home herring. It came in a squat jar in kind of a vinegar sauce. I don’t buy it anymore but it’s pretty popular in the grocery stores around here during the holidays.”

Rosie, a penpal who leads a prayer group, wrote “I never had anything special for New Year’s Eve or Day but Bernie always used to eat pickled herring on New Year’s Day before we were married. It meant a prosperous year or something. He’s German and Belgium so I’m assuming it’s one of those traditions”

And in my household, we returned to the custom of pork and sauerkraut, reflecting the German heritage of both Bob and myself. But this year, we are celebrating with a Prime Rib Roast dinner.

May 2014 bring us all good luck and happiness. Thank you for being such loyal subscribers to the Sandychatter blog.
Sandy@sandychatter