Monthly Archives: January 2015

TOO MANY BOOKS?

TOO MANY BOOKS?

To paraphrase the Duchess of Windsor (the former Wallace Simpson for whom King Edward VIII abdicated the throne in
1936) “you can’t be too rich or too poor….or have too many cookbooks”*

*Amongst my collection of favorite books are those about monarchs of Great Britain—and their wives/husbands or children.

I never imagined that the thought (having too many books) ever crossed my mind – until recently when I started finding it more difficult to find enough shelf space for my books.

As a child, I didn’t have any books to call my own. (I’d often read the same library books over and over again).

My very first book was a copy of Little Women that my mother gave to me one Christmas. I read and re-read little women until I could recite whole pages by heart. I’d give my book to one of my two best girlfriends and then when we had a squabble, I’d ask for it back. It went back and forth a few times.

Then one Christmas, my brother Jim gave me five brand-spanking new Nancy Drew books. I was hooked – not just hooked on Nancy Drew, which I was, but also the idea of having books of my own began to take place in a fertile corner of my mind.

I was already making trips downtown (Cincinnati) by myself – whether to pay off my mother’s coat that was in layaway at Lerner’s, or to turn in the blue Wilson labels from evaporated milk for which you could get a towel or a pot holder.

My mother made batches of formula in glass bottles with evaporated milk for whoever was the baby at the time. I have to wonder, though – she breast fed the baby—was the one who wasn’t the youngest anymore weaned onto bottles? This muddles my mind a bit—Biff was three years younger than me, and Bill was three years younger than Biff.

Bill remained the baby until our brother Scott was born when Bill was about twelve years old. Scott and my sister Susie were almost like a second family. I was seventeen when Scott was born—and the neighbors thought he was my baby, because I was the one waking him up and down the street in his stroller. I was twenty and married when Susie came along.

I need to back track, though, because I was the middle child, and my two younger brothers, Biff (whose name is actually George Calvin after two of our uncles who served during World War II) and Bill were often my responsibility. I looked after them all the time (and even took them with me on dates, when my current BF was taking me to a drive in movie), and began taking them with me downtown on the bus in December, to do our Christmas shopping. I have written about those trips downtown, growing up in Cincinnati, before on my blog so I won’t repeat all of that now. My point, really, is that I began going downtown—often by myself—and during those excursions I discovered books—books for sale in dusty dark thrift shops and (be still my heart!)—a huge used book store housing four stories of books. I bought a lot of those books—one at a time, seldom having any money to call my own—for about twenty-five cents each. I discovered some old editions of Nancy Drew, and a few other series similar to Nancy Drew.

Now I needed a bookcase – I think my mother must have given a bookcase to me one Christmas—and I took it with me when Jim (Smith, not to be confused with my brother Jim Schmidt!) & I got married but I think that bookcase must have been left behind when Jim & I moved to California. Jim had no use for my books OR the collection of 45s that I had accumulated and that he sailed over the back yard of his mother’s house

(How could I have married a man who didn’t like to read AND had no interest in my collection of 45s records? From my viewpoint fifty-something years later, it is almost too difficult to fathom. Was it love? I don’t think so—the night before the wedding, I knew I was making a mistake; I just didn’t know any way to get out of it. I was unhappy with the way my mother was treating me after I finally got a job (Western-Southern Life Insurance in downtown Cincinnati) – I had been taking care of my brothers all along, and babysat my baby brother from the time he was born until I got married—neighbors on Mulberry Street thought Scott was MY baby and that my brother Jim, then in the Air Force—was my husband. Susie set them all straight when she became old enough to play with little girls her age on our street. My mother decreed that I had to start paying room and board. I was so upset about that, I told Jim Smith, who said “well, we could get married”. And so we did. For all the wrong reasons. And, in retrospect, I don’t think he really loved me, either. Months of counseling prior to divorce revealed that he had been cheating on me throughout our marriage. That was the final blow, the realization that he had never been true to me and was unlikely to change.

My little white bookcase went with me to the house on Biegler Street where we lived downstairs from my husband’s mother. We didn’t take it with us to California – neither that or a kitchen cupboard that we bought—and what I wished for years I had somehow managed to keep. As far as I know, Jim’s sister still has those things.

We drove to California in 1961 as a lark—and rented a furnished duplex next door to Jim’s best friend Marvin who had taken his wife and children to California the year before. Michael was a little over a year old and I would take him in his stroller up Hollywood Way to a bookstore on Magnolia where I began buying books as cheap as possible, mostly paperbacks. I would read anything I could lay my hands on.

In 1962 we moved to an apartment on Sarah Street and I would walk Michael in his stroller up to a used bookstore on Lankershim Blvd—paperbacks ten cents each! Then I found a job at Household Finance in Hollywood and my free time was taken up just getting to and from work on buses; I did some exploring along Hollywood Boulevard but I don’t remember finding any thrift stores (or if I did, I’ve forgotten) – much of 1962 going into 1963 has been forgotten. I had a serious miscarriage in 1962 that landed me in the hospital for a few days.

What I remember is being hurried to the hospital by my husband, to a Seventh Day Adventist hospital because I had gone there when I suspected I was pregnant and it was affirmed. This was my second miscarriage – my first was in 1959 when we were still living in Cincinnati. This time I was bleeding heavily as we reached the hospital in Glendale. The next morning the doctor on call performed a D&C—when I miscarried, I’d lose everything except the fetus.

Well, it couldn’t have been too much longer after that we
moved into a wonderful large apartment on Sarah Street in North Hollywood. The “tenants” in the other downstairs apartment were actually the owners whose house was being remodeled; the parents had three adorable little girls who all, in turn, adored Michael and lavished attention on him. We were also invited to swim in their pool.

I can’t remember having many books much less a bookcase during the period of time that we lived there. When I became pregnant again, I flew back to Cincinnati with Michael in March of 1963 (I wanted my own obstetrician). We gave away the various items we had accumulated in a few years.

In Cincinnati, I returned to my old job, thankfully, and worked until two weeks before Steven’s birth. In December, 1963, we drove back to California—Jim couldn’t (or wouldn’t) find a job and we were mostly penniless when, after Steve’s birth, I developed a blood clot in my right leg and was bedridden for six weeks; one week I had $5 for baby food; we went to my mother’s where she gave us some meat out of her freezer; then we went to my sister Becky’s and she gave us half of everything in her pantry.

Shades of Scarlett O’Hara! I cried all the way home and swore we would never go without groceries again. I said I wanted to go back to California – at least there Jim was always able to find a job. (*mind you, there was no such thing as welfare or food stamps in 1963).

I left my collection of books with my mother, who began sending them to me a few at a time. In 1965, when my parents came to visit us, my mother packed a suitcase with the rest of my books.

But it was also in 1965 that I began collecting cookbooks—I have written about that before on my blog so wont repeat all of it here. I had also become acquainted with Connie, who babysat for us for some months while both Jim & I got jobs at Weber Aircraft.

Connie was a kindred spirit – one time we found an ad for a collection of presidential and white House books, for $100. We split the cost and sight unseen bought all of those books which formed the nucleus of my collection of Presidents/White House books. We went through the books one at a time dividing them up.

I was keenly interested in anything about the assassination of JFK and many books were published on the subject. (After Connie died in 1999, her daughter Dawn gave me large bags full of Connie’s books that her children didn’t want). And I probably bought over a hundred cookbooks forming the nucleus of THAT collection, also in 1965.

When we were preparing to move to Florida in 1979, I donated carloads of children’s books for my sons’ school and when we were preparing to move back to California, I gave boxes full of cookbooks to a new friend whose daughter wanted to start a collection of cookbooks of her own. I packed up and mailed 50 boxes of cookbooks back to California—to Connie’s house, in fact—so I had a pretty good guess how many pounds of cookbooks and other favorite books I had in 1982 when we returned to California.

So, upon reflection—I think the bulk of my cookbook collection was acquired after I moved to a little house in Van Nuys, following my breakup with Jim living there for a few years before moving back into the Arleta house (where we had lived from 1974-79, before moving to Florida). The Arleta house was large and was accompanied by a guest house that Bob (who came into my life in 1986) converted into a guest room/office for him.

And for nineteen years we were off and running – collecting books—not just cookbooks—and when we ran out of shelf space, we’d go out and buy more bookcases.

When I bought a house in 2008, we went from roughly 3000 square feet of space—to roughly 1500 square feet. I gave away SUV-loads full of books to the Burbank library for their Friends of the Library Sales; I gave a lot of other books away—and even so, filled over 600 boxes with books that Kelly carted to the Antelope Valley one weekend at a time, and stored in a rental storage unit. My books were in storage for a few months, then my son and daughter in law moved all the boxes to my garage. I was without garage space for a year.

Then in 2010, Bob converted half of the garage into a ….Library, of course! My collection of fiction and presidents/white house/first ladies books were all still in boxes…as quickly as Bob put up some shelves, I was unpacking boxes. The beauty of being able to open exactly what I wanted opened is that I had numbered all of the boxes. I had also written on the boxes what was inside each box. Everything was also written down in a little steno notebook that was my moving bible.

Even so, I found myself donating a lot of books to the Lancaster Library for their Friends of the Lancaster Library sales…there was this dim realization that I was never going to read a lot of those books again—and after Bob passed away in 2011, I began giving away some of his favorite authors’ novels. I also gave away his collection of books by or about Mark Twain to a friend who I knew would appreciate them.

It saddens me to have come to this realization—I have too many books. Bob’s room has bookcases on either side of the bed—just enough space to get in and out—one side contains all my foreign cookbooks in one bookcase and all of my canning/preserving cookbooks in another bookcase, while the other side has all of my regional cookbooks – one half contains books east of the Mississippi and the other side is west of the Mississippi; my favorite books of Americana cookbooks are in one extra bookcase along that wall.

(One winter, when we were still living in Arleta, I spent six weeks separating east from west. These are cookbooks published by various church or club groups as fundraisers). We had also gone to a place in Van Nuys where you could buy unfinished bookcases and do the finishing yourselves—we’d buy a couple of those ceiling to floor bookcases at a time.

What was pretty great about my relationship with Bob is that he loved books as much as I – the difference between us is that he would start a book and not do another thing until he finished it—while I always had my priorities—in addition to working full time, there were always other chores to do.

My bedroom contains all of my California cookbooks, the bulk of my Americana cookbooks and my Presidential/White House cookbooks. A third bedroom contains books by favorite cookbook authors while in the living room I have all of my Christmas cookbooks, a Gooseberry Patch cookbook collection, a collection of celebrity cookbooks as well as dessert cookbooks. A collection of NON cookbooks –mostly books about the history of food—fill five smallish bookcases in the family room where my computer is located. These are most of my reference books.

So, by the end of 2010, I had a garage library – A to L along one wall and M to Z along another; I also have a smallish collection of children’s books that I keep in a bookcase near the door; included are any books I know will be required reading for my grandchildren or my sister Susie’s kids.

But now I find…I need to do more donating of books I know I will not read (any of Bob’s authors—except Teddy Roosevelt; I will keep those in my Presidential collection. I’ve run out of bookshelf space.

All of which begs the question – can you have too many books? Sadly, the answer to this is yes – if you don’t have enough bookshelves to house all of your books. Books are meant to be read and displayed on bookshelves.

How many cookbooks do I have now? I have no idea. I don’t know of anyone with enough patience to count all of them.

–Sandra Lee Smith

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A personal message to all of my friends & family who have been loyal to my blog

My apologies to all of my subscribers, friends & relatives, for your loyalty to my blog. 2014 is partly a blur; I couldn’t remember last Christmas and New Year’s until I found photographs of the events. In mid-January I was hospitalized with kidney failure (no clue why to t his day!) – a full week is completely gone except for a few isolated memories. Son Steve got leave from the post office in Sioux Falls and came to spend a month with me, cooking and taking care of me, along with help from grandson Ethan and son Kelly, Ethan’s father. I fell down four times before regaining balance in mid-April. Recovery was slow.

I spent several months working on my photo album collection, filling two albums with photographs of aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents on both sides of the family, of friends and family–it was a good project and kept my mind occupied. The photo album collection consists of sixty something albums; I converted a linen closet into a photo album collection. A month or two later, I returned to bowling and meeting new friends.

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to keep up with my blog! – Thank you, everyone. Sandy@sandychatter.

NEW YEAR’S EVE & NEW YEAR’S DAY FOODS 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”.

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, who lives 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).

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 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 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.

This New Year’s Eve (2012), my penpal Bev and her husband Leroy will be here for dinner and we are going to have sauerkraut (homemade!) and sausages. I cooked two corned beef briskets yesterday in my pressure cooker so we can have Reuben sandwiches the next day. When I was visiting them in Oregon in October, they took me to a wonderful German restaurant in Portland and we enjoyed Reuben sandwiches. I may have lost a little of my connection with German and Hungarian cuisine and maybe this New Year’s dinner will be an opportunity to re-connect. I would love to share more of my German Hungarian roots with you!

May 2015 bring us all good luck and happiness. Thank you for being such loyal subscribers to the Sandychatter blog. As I re-wrote and posted this article about food traditions in many countries, I spent mostly a quiet New Year’s Eve (the fireworks going off scared both of my dogs who huddled close to me). Earlier my sister and her husband, along with sons Cody and Joe (and Joe’s wife and two children, a little boy and a little girl) paid me a visit. Joe’s son, Joe Jr., helped me unwrap gifts from all of them. I am delighted to report that son Joe is moving back to California–Joe is a computer expert and I will have someone to call when I have computer issues. Joe lived with Bob & me for a few months when we were still on Arleta & I feel a kinship with him. Happy New Year to everyone, 2015.

Sandy@sandychatter

NEW YEAR’S EVE & DAY MEMORIES REVISITED

My earliest memories of New Year’s Eve are of the parties my parents hosted. On a few occasions, my cousin, Irene (called Renee by the family) and her brothers, along with me and my brothers, had our own little party down in my parents’ basement on Sutter Street. Renee and I were almost the same age – she is six months older than I am – my two brothers (Scott wasn’t born until I was 17) and her three younger brothers, along with our cousin, Chuck, apparently had a good time together, judging from the few photos I have found from these occasions.

I think by the following year, I was babysitting for my sister and the family who lived downstairs from her. I remember babysitting there when my brother Jim brought me a plate of pork and sauerkraut, the traditional German dish we ate at midnight! Midnight! It’s a wonder no one in the family suffered from any stomach problems. I cried when I sat alone eating the sauerkraut. I missed being with my family. I think my parents hosted a lot of New Year’s Eve parties but these are the few that remain outstanding in my memory. I babysat on New Year’s Eve until I got married in 1958.

After Jim & I moved to California IN 1961, he contacted an old friend of his who was living somewhere near Shell Beach in the central coast. We spent our first California new year’s eve with these friends who took us to a party. I thought I was spectacular in my black dress with white gloves! (What did I know about fashion?). New Year’s Day, 1962, found us down by Shell Beach, where we took some photographs. My favorite is myself sitting on a rail fence; my Canadian girlfriend, Doreen, dubbed this photograph “California Girl”. I was twenty-one and the mother of a one year old son. I really didn’t know anything about California at the time but I would certainly learn.

Jim (my then-husband, now ex-) & I spent some New Year’s Eves with friends; the one most memorable was with a group of friends at a Hungarian restaurant where everyone ate traditional Hungarian food that night. We acquired these Hungarian friends in a circuitous way—a man named Alex and his wife Peggy rented an apartment behind our first home in California, a duplex we rented in late 1961. Peggy and Alex arrived from New York at closely the same time. Alex introduced us to some of his Hungarian friends, who in turn became our friends—most notably Neva and Les. Les and his friends were freedom fighters in the short-lived Hungarian revolution in 1956; when they lost their bid for freedom, most of them immigrated to the United States as political refugees. It was through Les and Neva that I began returning to my culinary roots of Hungarian food foods such as goulash and Palascinta, Palascinta layered with poppy seed filling and cut into wedges. Palascinta can be made many different ways—it is a thin crepe-like pancake—it can have sweet fillings or savory. My grandmother made Palascinta with jelly fillings. (We called them German pancakes—what did we know about Palascinta?) I can remember walking back to school after eating lunch at Grandma’s house, eating a rolled up palascinta filled with jelly along the way.

Another year, we hosted a New Year’s Eve party at our house—it had to be 1974 or later, because the house in photographs was the one in Arleta. I imagine if I go through all of my photo albums—over sixty of them dating back to my teenage years—I will find other photographs taken on other New Year’s Eve celebrations.

One of the best adventures I ever had on a New Year’s Eve was celebrated after I was divorced in 1986. A new boyfriend took me to Pasadena on New Year’s Eve – this is a happening event throughout the streets of Pasadena—the streets on which the famous Rose Bowl parade will travel the next morning. People are camped out along those streets, in small tents or sleeping bags, with folding chairs and blankets (it can get quite cold on those streets late at night!). My friend George had a large sleeping bag and a small hibachi that he kept fed with bits of wood; he was a carpenter and had his truck bed (parked near by on a side street) filled with small pieces of wood; it drew people to us throughout the night – and people come to this almost-event from all over the United States. It was one of the most exciting experiences of my life as I was just returning to dating.

The next day, all of us had ring-side views of the floats as they came by on Colorado Boulevard. I have many photos of the floats but none of George and I as we sat along the curb drinking wine out of a coffee cup and talking to people who came up to our fire to get warm. I have never again been to Pasadena on a New Year’s Eve (or even a New Year’s Day for that matter) and my relationship with George was brief – I knew he was too young for me, in his mid thirties to my mid-forties – but it was great fun while it lasted. And I think it was that night that I began to feel like there might be life after divorce. There was.

In more recent years, Bob & I did not really celebrate New Year’s Eve. And New Year’s Day became my day to start dismantling the Christmas decorations, while watching the Rose Bowl Parade – over and over again throughout the day as KTLA, Channel 5 in Los Angeles, televised the parade with my favorite TV personalities, Bob Eubanks and Stephanie Edwards—and repeated the program throughout the day. What I might have missed one time, I could catch the next time around. What great memories!
Happy New Year 2015 to all my Sandychatter friends!