Category Archives: Family

THE MEANING OF HOLIDAYS, THEN AND NOW

Just before Thanksgiving (2016), my older brother, Jim, texted me to ask what I was doing for Thanksgiving. They, he wrote, were going out for dinner with another couple.
We, I texted back to him, are having a roast chicken dinner, here at my place, along with salad, mashed potatoes*, green beans and choice of pumpkin pie or angel food cake. My youngest son, Kelly, is on a restricted diet and can’t eat turkey. However, he can eat chicken. He can’t eat pumpkin pie (no milk or dairy products including no butter) He can eat margarine, such as Imperial, which we can put in with the mashed potatoes. He can’t have milk or dairy products in the mashed potatoes. My daughter in law, through trial and error, has discovered she can drain off the potatoes when they are soft enough to mash, and then put the potato water back in with the potatoes to get a desired mashed texture (plus margarine, not butter).

Not long ago, my daughter in law, Keara, sent me her recipe for roasting chickens with 4” lengths of celery stuffed into the cavity, salt and pepper inside and out and some onion powder. I roasted two chickens on Thanksgiving Day and sent them home with the leftover angel food cake (something Kelly can eat) and the leftover chicken to go in one of my daughter in law’s many recipes like burritos and tostados made with shredded leftover chicken. Oddly enough, none of us missed having turkey. Time was when I would have made turkey and rice soup with the leftover turkey carcass, which was my son Steve’s favorite soup. But Steve and his wife live in South Dakota now. Son Chris and his family live in the San Fernando Valley. (Kelly and Keara live around the corner from me).

There was a time, also, when I would have trekked out on Black Friday to find some wonderful discounts—but my bad knees and feet keep me from venturing very far. I will try to order as many gifts on the Internet as possible. Amazon.com knows when I am coming.

Now, let me back up to a time when I DID roast a turkey on Thanksgiving. I was a bride at the age of 18. I tried my best to make a decent Thanksgiving dinner but my then-husband found fault with every meal Holiday or not. “Potatoes didn’t have enough salt” he would say.

Then around in the mid-1960s we became friends with a Hungarian man and his wife who, along with her extended family, came from Missouri. We were invited to the wife’s family’s huge Thanksgiving dinner which included ham, turkey, a wide assortment of pies and cakes—all I was asked to bring were homemade biscuits. We enjoyed being a part of this family’s Thanksgiving dinner. I don’t think I cooked another Thanksgiving dinner after that. (in the 1980s, when our marriage was on its last legs, my husband and I took marital counseling. Inevitably, the salt or lack of salt in my potatoes came up.

Our counselor was baffled. “Couldn’t you just add salt to the potatoes on your own plate?” she asked.

“That’s not the point my then-husband said, “Then how would she LEARN that the meal wasn’t well prepared?” I think our counselor saw the handwriting on the wall before I did. My husband dropped counseling. I continued for another seven months, trying to save something that HE, OBVIOUSLY, DIDN’T WANT TO SAVE.

Getting back to my brother’s text messages my brother Jim lamented when we were children how a huge dinner would be prepared on Thanksgiving. Sometimes we went to my grandmother’s for dinner, sometimes my grandmother came to our house. When we were very young, after a hearty meal, the adults would play cards while we children were given enough money for a movie and either a coke or popcorn (I think a quarter per child was usually enough for everything) – and I think our Uncle Al gave us each a quarter (we thought he was rich) and one of the adults took us to the West Hills Theatre where, hopefully, we would stay for hours.

I remember Thanksgiving dinners at both my mother’s and my grandmother’s homes, and I just barely remember being shuffled off to a movie theatre. When I was very young, there was a movie theater on Carl Street, walking distance from Grandma’s or our house on Sutter Street. The only movie I can remember seeing there was something called Johnny Belinda. I was too young to understand the plot.

I can just barely remember holiday dinners at my grandparent’s home on the second floor of their house on Baltimore Street where, after dinner, the adults played cards. I would try to fall asleep on a day bed in that room—hopefully where I would fall asleep and be allowed to spend the night.

Holiday events changed when my grandfather became ill and passed away on February 18, 1950. I was nine years old at the time.

My grandmother moved downstairs in two rooms at the front of the house; she rented out the two rooms at the back of the house and the entire second floor as well. (our Uncle John (Hans to the family) and his wife and sons lived in the rooms on the third floor.

We children went to grandma’s almost every school day for lunch. On Mondays after school, my sister Becky and her children as well as I would go to Grandma’s for dinner and I would spend the night with her. We were all terribly spoiled on good food – a combination of German and Hungarian. Whatever it was, we called it German food, not having any knowledge of the distinction between German and Hungarian cuisine. All we knew and maybe it wasn’t until later, was that my grandmother came from Germany and my grandfather from Hungary.

I continued having one night a week spent at my grandmother’s, all the way through high school. Regretfully, I married in December of 1958; my grandmother passed away about a year later. I didn’t see her before she died; my brother in law came to tell me and take me to good Samaritan Hospital but she had already passed away by the time we got there. Grandma’s recipes were never written down—she could barely write anything in English. I have tried to resurrect her wonderful strudel recipes but the exact recipes passed away with her.

My Aunt Evelyn (whom we called Aunt Dolly) learned Grandma’s recipes by standing by her and watching how grandma made everything. But those recipes died along with Aunt Dolly who passed away in 2012. My sister, Becky, managed to copy some of those recipes but there are precious few that have survived. Becky and I compiled a family cookbook and managed to get it published before Becky died in October of 2004.

We called it “Grandma’s Favorite” as a nod to our beloved grandmother who managed to make us all believe, growing up, that each one of us was Grandma’s favorite. It was not something ever spoken, but each of us knew that “I was grandma’s favorite”

We discovered this one day at my sister Becky’s house, all of us sitting around the kitchen table where we were discussing favorite memories and one of us spoke up an said “well, you know, I was grandma’s favorite”.

“Like heck you were,” someone disputed . “I was grandma’s favorite” and so on until everyone at the table had laid claim to being grandma’s favorite. (I didn’t enter the dispute, knowing only too well that I was really grandma’s favorite.

Years later my sister and I reflected on this wonderful gift our grandmother had given to all of us—and how we were endeavoring to be the same kind of grandmother to our grandchildren.

When I was about ten or eleven years old, I began taking my two younger brothers Biff and Bill, downtown to do our Christmas shopping at the 5&10 cent stores. We also checked out the Santa Clauses in the department stores—you got a free candy cane by waiting in line to see Santa Claus. (We figured that we increased our chances of getting what we wanted for Christmas, if we stood in line to see all of Santa’s helpers. (We KNEW that the real Santa Claus was busy making toys in the North Pole).

After we completed our shopping for presents for our parents, grandparents and siblings, we took our gifts upstairs where we wrapped our presents in ironed-out gift wrap. I think my favorite gift, from my older brother Jim, was five brand new Nancy Drew mysteries. It was the start of a collection of books (from which I have never recovered).

Downtown Cincinnati was awash with all the decorated department store windows— and I remember going to see a “living nativity” – that I think was held in Garfield Park. I haven’t been downtown at Christmas time in many years. I wonder if any of my brothers have been downtown during the Christmas holidays—I don’t know the answer to that. –

Sandra Lee Smith

BAD FOOD – UPDATED

BAD FOOD. UPDATED

(PREVIOUSLY POSTED 2011)

We’ve all had experiences with “bad food” – food prepared improperly or maybe not agreeable to our taste buds.

Topping my list of “Bad Food” would be my mother’s library-paste rice and Hasenpfeffer (sweet and sour rabbit). The smell of the marinade in which my mother soaked the rabbit made me sick to my stomach. I knew it would be on the table in the next few days—only recently did I discover how my younger brother Bill side-stepped anything he didn’t like that was going to be dinner one night—he would hang around at Aunt Dolly’s until she asked him if he wanted to eat with them. Of course he did! (It never occurred to me that a person could deliberately skip a meal).

Mom didn’t have much talent with cabbage, either. She would put it on to boil around 9 am so it would be slimy mush by dinnertime. My sister Becky shuddered at the memory of mom’s lima beans while we all pinched our noses remembering the smell of kidney stew. (Maybe not Bill—he LIKED kidney stew).

My mother’s philosophy seemed to be, if the recipe required one or two hours cooking time, all day would be much better. Granted, we never suffered the ill effects of eating undercooked food and dinner could sometimes be a mystery, guessing what was in the pot. I was an adult living in California before I discovered how wonderful a pilaf rice can taste or how delicious corned beef and cabbage is when the cabbage hasn’t boiled all day.

I was born on the brink of World War II and many groceries were rationed or simply unavailable. My mother stretched her ten-dollars-a-week grocery allowance by cooking a lot of organ meats, which were cheap and un-rationed (liver, kidneys, tongue, heart and BRAINS). Ew, ew. No, don’t tell me it tastes just like scrambled eggs.

And, a child’s imagination can run amuck with the names of certain things. Take “head cheese”. Actually, it’s not a cheese but a lunchmeat, served cold–but do you know why it’s called “head cheese”? It was made with the head of a calf or a pig. As for my own particular aversion to stewed rabbit, I’m not sure which I despised the most – the rabbit or the occasional BB that might be found floating in the gravy. We only had hasenpfeffer when my father went rabbit hunting. The rabbits were cleaned at the kitchen sink; some things are better done out of the sight of small children. After I watched my then-husband clean fish shortly after we were married, I only ate fish sticks for several years. I think the only kind of fish my mother ever cooked were salmon patties (which, oddly enough is one of my comfort foods) but bear no resemblance to creatures that once swam in the ocean.

All of which only demonstrates that much of the visceral reaction we experience with certain foods can be traced to how the food was prepared, along with the deep-seated American aversion to eating some parts of an animal but not others (such as brains, liver, kidneys) .

I became curious about bad recipes initially when I read that many recipes in cookbooks aren’t actually tested prior to publication.

Have you ever followed a recipe in a reputable cookbook, only to find the results dismally disappointing? After many years of cooking, I can generally tell just from reading a recipe whether it sounds right to me. My curiosity about bad recipes was piqued when someone sent me a food section from an old newspaper. The author opens the article, titled “IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S THE RECIPE” by relating the story of a lady whose hobby is trying recipes until she finds the perfect one. In her quest for the perfect crab cake, this cook tried many different versions including several provided by notable cookbook authors. “They were soggy little balls of yuck,” she reported. “Even my husband wouldn’t touch them, which is really amazing. They were too disgusting.”

It may surprise you to learn that most cookbook publishers have no test kitchens. Most newspapers don’t either, and consequently, they can’t test every recipe they print from a cookbook. Most recipes are printed as they appear in cookbooks or from wire services. And while cookbook publishers claim to care about accuracy in recipes, most are unwilling to spend the money to make sure the recipes actually work. In a standard publishing contract, the responsibility of recipe testing is left up to the writers.

Added to the mistakes that may be made somewhere between the writing of the cookbook and its publication, there is another important element to all of this. It translates to the difference between the kitchen of the cookbook author and the kitchen of the person who purchased the cookbook.

One writer noted, “… the curious truth about recipes is that they often produce dramatically different results in different hands in different kitchens…recipes are only partly science; following a recipe is not like solving a quadratic equation. There is play involved, wiggle room, variance, uncertainty, and the person in charge has to know how to adjust.”

I’ll always remember my neighbor Lynn, in Florida, who managed to burn every batch of chocolate chip cookies. It was a recipe I had given to her.

“Lynn!” I said “That’s the recipe on the bag of Nestle Toll House morsels—it’s foolproof!” So I went next door to investigate and discovered that she was tightly squeezing two cookie sheets side by side on her single baking rack. The air couldn’t circulate and the cookies burned.

Over the years, my own cooking/baking techniques have improved (I think) with age. I am also the owner of an old (1940s vintage) Wedgewood stove that requires a little pampering on occasion. I seldom try to bake more than one tray of cookies at a time because the oven isn’t big enough and a second rack would either be too close to the bottom or too near the top. I often make up cookie dough and then just bake one or two dozen for us to eat, refrigerating the remaining cookie dough for another day. I indulge myself with an ample supply of parchment paper to line the cookie sheets. I wouldn’t have been able to afford it, when my sons were growing up. We also ate a lot of spaghetti when my sons were children and to this day, my son Kelly doesn’t particular care to eat spaghetti no matter how good it may be. (They DID all like spaghetti with Cincinnati chili, though. (it’s a Cincinnati thing, spaghetti with chili).

Bottom line, maybe it’s not bad food but actually bad cook. But, I still don’t eat rabbit—no matter how it’s cooked. Do you have a particular aversion to a certain food or the way it’s cooked?

Happy Cooking!

–Sandy

NEW YEAR’S EVE & NEW YEAR’S DAY MEALS FOR GOOD LUCK

The following was written–and posted–a few years ago but since many new readers find my blog, I thought this might be worth a repeat. As for MY parents, pork chops and sauer kraut, with mashed potatoes, was served to company at midnight. Maybe the good luck was surviving such a meal at midnight and then going to bed with a full stomach. Or maybe they didn’t go to bed at all on New Years Eve! ***

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, (written in 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 2013 bring us all good luck and happiness. Thank you for being such loyal subscribers to the Sandychatter blog.

Sandy@sandychatter

PLAYING RESTAURANT

As a child growing up in the 1940s, there were five children(including myself) and two adults to be fed. My mother baked bread in large turkey roasting pans twice a week and that supplemented our meals. She once told me she had ten dollars a week to spend on groceries during that period of time and for the most part, meals were repeated every two weeks or so. It is baffling to me that there were ever left overs–we were always a hungry bunch of kids – unless whatever was cooking on the stove was something one of us didn’t like. I didn’t like rice or cabbage but mostly I loathed Hasenpferrer–stewed rabbit that had been soaking for 3 days in vinegar and spices. The rabbit was one my father killed going hunting once a year. Once, when I was a very young child, I saw my father clean the rabbit in the kitchen sink. I dreaded supper anytime I came home and smelled that sickening sweet-and-sour mixture cooking on the stove. I wasn’t as clever as my brother Bill who would go to Aunt Dolly’s after school (not far from his school) and would call home to find out what was for dinner. If it was something he didn’t like, he would morosely hang around until Aunt Dolly would say “Billy, would you like to stay for dinner?” Of course he would! Aunt Dolly was a fabulous cook. It wasn’t until I was an adult and living in California that I had an enormous realization–it wasn’t the cabbage or the rice that I hated — it was the way my mother cooked things; cabbage would go on the stove at 9 am for supper at 6 pm. It was always a slimy mess. Rice, which we had with stewed chicken on a Sunday, was a sticky ball of goo. (Billy says he LIKED that kind of rice) I had to be introduced to Rice Pilaf and other great rice dishes to understand that my dislikes were due not to the food itself but to the way my mother cooked them. (and I think THAT was because she cooked the way HER mother cooked and food out of a can was cooked for an hour to be on the safe side and protect you from botulism).

Well, that was us in the 1940s and going into the 1950s. If there was ANY amount of a leftover item–even a tablespoonful – it would go into small covered dishes and into the frig. (I think aluminum foil was unavailable during the War. All we had to wrap anything in was wax paper. Mom never threw out anything.

Well, from around the time I was about 9 or 10 years old, I looked after my younger brothers all the time. In the summertime, when mom was working, I had to figure out what we could eat for lunch–and playing restaurant was born. I would dig through the refrigerator for any kind of leftovers and write everything down on a “menu”. Then Biff and Bill could choose their lunch which I would reheat and serve. Voila! no more leftovers and the next day I would have to come up with something different – unless we had more leftovers from the night before. It was just something that I dreamed up to make leftovers an interesting game for my siblings. And you know–I never resented or disliked looking after my younger brothers–they were just my brothers to look after.

Sandra Lee Smith

COOKING

Cooking, and I mean this as all aspects of cooking including baking, has been such an integral part of my life that I feel it should be addressed entirely on its own.

I have told the story of my first experience in cooking. My mother was allowing me to make some muffins. I assume I was following a recipe in my mother’s Ida Bailey Allen Service cookbook. The ingredients and the muffin pan were on the kitchen table. My mother instructed me to leave the yellow Pyrex bowl on the table as I stirred the ingredients—but I wanted to hold the bowl in the crook of my arm like I had seen it done on TV. Needless to say, I dropped the bowl and it crashed to the floor. I ran upstairs crying.

My memory stops right there. Did I go clean up the mess? When did I try again? I surely did because I have been making many kinds of muffins almost all my life. And it took me at least a year to save up enough money to buy my mother another yellow bowl –you couldn’t buy JUST the bowl—you had to buy the entire Pyrex set, which cost about $3.95.

Somehow, I saved up the money and gave the bowl—the entire set of bowls—to my mother. I may have been about ten years old – where did I get the money? I have no idea. I don’t think I started babysitting for my older sister and some of the young mothers in our neighborhood until I was about twelve years old. I was always looking after my younger brothers.

One thing my mother did make from scratch for many years was homemade bread. She baked two large loaves of bread (in black speckled roasting pans) twice a week. I think the homemade bread must have gone by the wayside when my mother began working full time.

I began baking the cookie recipes in Ida Bailey Allen’s Service cookbook; I particularly remember making large peanut butter cookies to send to my mother who was in the hospital at the time.

I learned how to make brownies. From my mother I learned how to make salmon patties from a can of salmon. I learned how to make macaroni and cheese and macaroni with tomato sauce. When I was ten or eleven, my mother instructed me to make dinner for my three brothers (this was long before my brother Scott was born) – mom and my father were going to a dinner.

“Do we really have to eat this?” they asked Dad.
“Every bite” he told them.

Our dinner was salmon patties, canned spinach and macaroni and cheese, with cottage cheese as a salad. When we had finished eating, my brothers all stood up together, grasped their stomachs, and fell down on the floor, pretending to be unconscious. I may have cried, kicking them. They thought it was a good joke.

Salmon patties played a part throughout my life. Years later, when Bob and I had driven in our little Chinook camper to Point Arena in northern California, it was late and we were hungry. We parked in the Point Arena camping area but couldn’t sign in until the next morning. Meanwhile I began making macaroni and cheese (from the blue box) and salmon patties. The mac and cheese was only halfway done and the salmon patties a little on the undone side when we ran out of propane–but we ate them anyway.

For many years after that, whenever I made salmon patties and mac and cheese, Bob would say “This is good but you know what was really GREAT? Those salmon patties and mac and cheese you made that cold foggy night in Point Arena—“ and that was how his memory always remembered that meal.

The next day I took beautiful pictures of the Point Arena light house – many I would have enlarged and framed – and we continued north until we reached the redwoods; we camped near a river and Bob would strike up conversations with people in thirty footer motor homes—us with our little Chinook.

The day after that, we traveled south in very hot weather and so traveled west to get back at camp grounds near Morro Bay where it was always much cooler; we traveled south to reach Pismo Beach again. Throughout our stays I cooked on a two-burner little gas stove. I think we also visited the lighthouse at Morro Bay. I would say that was our best vacation. **

But getting back to my learning how to cook—I learned some things from my
mother, other things from the Ida Bailey Allen Service cookbook. At some point in time, my mother acquired a Meta Given cookbook. She always maintained that Readers Digest sent the book to her, unsolicited, and she refused to pay for it. I began reading the recipes in the Meta Given cookbook and eventually acquired it for myself. I was curious about Meta Given for many years—until I began researching her and writing about her life and cookbooks.

In a blog article I posted in 2013, I wrote:

“I think it was a book club offering but that baffles me as neither of my parents ever joined a book club. I have a vague memory of my mother refusing to pay for it and so it languished on the family bookshelves until I began to read it and eventually claimed for my own. And, to add to the mystery, there is no indication on the inside pages of the cookbook that it was ever a book club selection. The original copyright was 1942. This edition was copyrighted by Meta Given in 1953, which sounds about right to me.

Not surprisingly, the pages most stained are those with cookie recipes on them- rocks and hermits, gum drop cookies, something called cocoa Indians, lemon drop cookies and molasses drop. My mother turned me loose in the kitchen when I was 9 or 10 years old and most of the time, I baked cookies. I really wasn’t interested in cooking anything else at the time.

I now own a copy of the original 1942 “Modern Family Cookbook” which is somewhat thicker and heavier than the 1953 edition. In 1947, Meta compiled “Meta Given’s Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking which is in two volumes. I had to laugh at myself; I thought I only had a copy of Volume I but when I began going through some of my old cookbooks in our new built garage library, I found a copy of Volume II.

None of my copies of Meta Given books have dust jackets and therein is the crux of the matter – so often, biographical information can be found on the dust jackets of cookbooks…”

Over time, as readers found my blog articles (http://sandy chatter.wordpress.com) about Meta Given on Google, they began to write to me and I learned more about her. (there are over six hundred comments in response to this post).

Mean while—back in the 1950s—I was a teenager learning how to cook. In my sophomore year at Mother of Mercy High School, I took cooking classes with Mrs. Cunningham—a dedicated and delightful teacher if ever there was one, who treated cooking as a science. It was there I began to understand that if you could read and follow directions—you could cook–or bake.

Mrs. Cunningham realized that one other classmate and I had more knowledge about cooking than most of her students and so would single us out to take messages to the principal or run other errands. Once a week or so, we were assigned one of the stoves in the cooking class and would make something. I remember once making cream of pea soup out of canned peas—which gives me something to think about these many years later as I make split pea soup with dried peas. Mrs. Cunningham’s approach may have been to get the soup made in a class of 45 minutes. For the life of me, I can’t remember what else we cooked in that class.

At the age of eighteen, I married a boy whose mother was from West Virginia. I didn’t have the best of relationships with his mother but I did learn how to make white (southern) gravy from her, as well as perfect fried chicken and fresh string beans cooked until they almost fell apart. (The fresh green beans was a departure from my mother’s CANNED green beans—speaking of which, my mother always cooked canned corn, peas, green beans, asparagus, beets; if there was a canned version of vegetables, that’s what we grew up on. I nevertasted fresh asparagus until we had been living in California for a few years. Ditto fresh spinach.

Come to think of it, I never tasted a steak until we moved to California. Or avocadoes! Or Clam Chowder! Or Yogurt! Or Artichokes!

In 1961, my father bought several copies of a cookbook being sold by one of his coworkers. That book was the 50 ANNIVERSARY COOKBOOK by WOMEN’S GUILD MATTHEW’S UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST (in Cincinnati) – for something like one dollar each. He gave one of the cookbooks to me but several years would pass by before I began to wonder if there were other church and/or club cookbooks such as the one Dad bought and asking myself how I could go about finding those cookbooks. I wrote a letter to a magazine called Women’s Circle (not to be confused with Family Circle or Woman’s Day that are still being published). Women’s Circle was published by Tower Press and was entirely made up of letters sent in by women like myself—looking for a book or penpals or any number of other things. I was looking for a Culinary Press cookbooklet of Hungarian recipes for my friend Peggy whose husband was Hungarian) – I think I received well over two hundred letters—some for the Hungarian cookbooklet – I bought two copies for $1.00 each, one for Peggy and one for myself—and began answering the other letters and buying many different cookbooks that formed the nucleus of my cookbook collection.

And it was a revelation to discover the thousands of church and club cookbooks being published over the decades. It was how I knew what to do when my sons’ grammar school PTA announced the desire to compile a cookbook. I immediately contacted the woman whose name was on a flyer my sons brought home from school in 1971—two of those women became life time girlfriends – and our cookbook, RECIPE ROUNDUP was published in 1971.

Moving to California was the proving ground for many foods and many more recipes. I began collecting cookbooks in 1965—some years later, I began collecting filled recipe boxes; I didn’t want just an empty recipe box—I wanted the collection of recipes that can sometimes be found in recipe boxes that turn up in antique stores or even thrift shops. I wanted to find out what recipes other women collected. I began to think of them as the Kitchen Diaries.

And so here I am, in my 70s and not doing very much cooking. I continue to bake but generally give the cookies or cakes away—often to people I am bowling with. Bob passed away in 2011. Jim and I divorced in April of 1986. I met Bob around in August of that year. We did a lot of canning and he was a willing helper. We entered the L.A. County Fair for about a decade, proudly displaying our blue ribbons (and even the red and yellow ribbons).

If I have learned anything along the way—it’s that if you can’t BE cooking, you can at least WRITE about cooking.

–Sandra Lee Smith

Reference (see also)
SEARCHING FOR META GIVEN, originally posted 2/14/11. UPDATED JUNE 22, 2013
BATTERED. TATTERED, STAINED PAGES IN A CHURCH COOKBOOK, June, 2011
WHEN IT’S NOT A BATTERED, TATTERED, STAINED CHURCH COOKBOOK, WHAT IS IT? August, 2011

GROWING UP PRACTICALLY GREENLESS

In the midst of a recent exchange with one of my email pals, it crossed my mind that we grew up, in the 30s, 40s. and 50s with a dearth of fresh vegetables. I never tasted fresh spinach before moving to California. Ditto fresh asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels Sprouts or bell peppers. In the Cincinnati of my childhood, bell peppers were called “mangoes” (it’s a long story; I’ll spare you for now). Other fresh vegetables we never had: artichokes, eggplant, cauliflower, Kohlrabi, mushrooms, okra, parsnips, rutabagas, any kind of squash, turnips or zucchini.

As a child of the 40s and 50s in a family of five children, we had carrots and potatoes with stewed chicken on Sunday, served with my mother’s library paste rice that I loathed but not very long ago discovered my brother Bill actually liked it. I didn’t like rice until I was married and began discovering rice pilaf, brown rice and a wealth of other rice dishes. Then I realized that it wasn’t the rice that I loathed; it was the way my mother cooked it. It was the same thing with cabbage. My mother began cooking cabbage around 9 am in the morning, for supper at 6 pm. It was cabbage slime.

The wonder of it all is that I learned how to make corned beef and cabbage on my own—and liked it. (Cut into wedges, cooked gently until just done in a crockpot with the pre-cooked corned beef). Sometimes, such as on a Sunday dinner, we had a simple green lettuce salad with a vinaigrette mixed in, otherwise we didn’t have salads. Cottage cheese was often on the table and considered a salad.

We sometimes had canned asparagus, canned peas, canned beets, canned corn, canned tomatoes and canned string beans—all of which I liked but it took fresh asparagus, peas, beets and corn and beans to awaken my taste buds and make me love those vegetables. I think we might have had corn on the cob once a year but I wouldn’t swear to it.

After being gifted with my maternal grandmother’s cookbook from my cousin Renee on one of my visits to Cincinnati, I had an inkling that my mother’s cooking was largely her mother’s cooking some of which is reflected in Grandma Beckman’s late 1800s cookbook.

The one thing my mother made “from scratch” regularly was bread – two large loaves of it baked in a large black speckled roasting pan twice a week. Oh, how I envied kids with sandwiches made from Wonder Bread! Our sliced bread sandwiches were at least six inches thick. However, that being said – if you happened to be in the kitchen when my mother took a loaf of bread out of the oven and she sliced off an end for you to try with a little margarine—now that was heaven!

One dish I loved was canned peas made with a white cream sauce (like a Bechamel sauce). My mother used evaporated milk in the sauce (mixed in with the liquid from the canned peas) and I loved it. Years later discovered my sister Becky loved peas made this way too. When we had salmon patties (made from canned salmon) on a Friday, it was usually with creamed peas. Growing up, I didn’t know there was any such thing as fresh salmon—not in the Midwest it wasn’t. And I don’t remember ever having any kind of other fish, fresh or otherwise.

And speaking of peas, one of the ladies in my support group says she had peas, usually with pearl onions, almost every Sunday while visiting her grandfather and she became sick of them.

For the life of me I can’t remember my mother ever making fried chicken—the only kind of chicken I remember having was stewed—and once in a blue moon, my mother made French fries, draining them on brown paper bags that were torn open to lay flat. I really learned how to make fried chicken from my mother in law, Bertha Smith, who was from Bluefield West Virginia. I also learned how to make white gravy from her (wonderful with fried chicken when you have all those drippings and bits and pieces from the chicken).

Throughout the years when my sons were growing up, I made fried chicken at least once a week but I cut up two chickens to fry—to have with biscuits and gravy. (There was a good reason for frying at least two chickens at a time; my then-husband and sons often brought strays home for dinner (friends who didn’t have anywhere to go for dinner).

Everyone knew what time we had dinner and many of them just happened to show up at that time—no one was ever turned away. And it was a simple matter to make a double or triple batch of buttermilk biscuits and a vat of white gravy.  We always had a salad and some kind of vegetable—thinking back, I know they all liked corn so that was probably on the table the most often—but not canned! I became an advocate for fresh and frozen veggies.

I just thought of something else I want to add to this – my son Kelly has been on a fairly strict food plan for several years now. He sees a doctor in the San Fernando Valley (that his father recommended to him) because Kelly had so many digestive problems. He went on this “diet” which allows potatoes – he can have them baked or mashed – but no milk in the mashing and only margarine to go on it. He went down 3 pants sizes and the puffiness went out of his face. he can have almost any kind of meat except pork & he can eat a lot of salads, which he does. If they are coming over here to eat I generally make baked potatoes. When Keara makes mashed potatoes for them, she just uses the potato water mashing them.

And I haven’t made chocolate chip cookies since Christmas because he will EAT them even when he SHOULDN’T.

Occasionally my mother made a kidney stew that was served with wide cooked noodles; I liked it well enough until I learned where the kidneys came from and what their purpose was. We also had liver & onions every so often—something I liked and when I was first married, it was a meal you could make for next to nothing. Calves liver was cheap (not so much anymore) and a few brown onions were cheap as well.

However, I just don’t remember many side dishes of vegetables. My mother would ‘pickle’ a can of red beets—which my father liked. I didn’t like beets until I began cooking fresh ones myself, cooking the green tops as well as the beets. Now shoestring red beets are one of my favorite “sides” on a salad. And while checking through some old cookbooks, I have discovered that my mother was making Harvard Beets with those canned red beets
.
Now might be a good time to tell my “mango” story; backing up first – in Cincinnati in the 40s and 50s, bell peppers were called “mangoes” – the how and why of it is something I have written about on my blog before. We had “filled mangoes” probably several times a month when bell peppers were in season. It was something my mother could make using a small amount of ground beef; you hollowed out the bell peppers (mangoes) and filled them with ground beef mixed with uncooked rice and maybe an egg mixed into it. Tomato sauce was poured over it all and cooked in the oven. Voila – stuffed mangoes.

Well, shortly after we moved to California in 1961, my then-husband Jim and I became acquainted with a couple named Jim & Teresa, we often had meals at their apartment. Teresa was from Louisiana and an excellent cook. So – one night when we were there for dinner and I was chatting with Teresa in the kitchen, she asked me what kind of dishes I liked to make. “Well, for one, stuffed mangoes” I replied. (I had never even heard of any other kind of “mango”) – it took a lot of explaining before I understood that what WE called stuffed mangoes—wasn’t made with mangoes at all—they were made with bell peppers. I never referred to stuffed bell peppers as “mangoes” again.

(*I wish I could find Teresa again. I happened to see her and her daughter Connie in the early 1980s at a park when I was working at SAG in the summer and was staying with girlfriend Mary Jaynne at the time. I think Theresa was divorced by then. Well, I digress—people come and go from your life in California, more so than people you know from your childhood elsewhere and who are still living in places like my hometown of Cincinnati). ***

I think, I will make and freeze stuffed peppers when Kelly”s veggie garden goes into overdrive this year. I diced a lot of the bell peppers and froze them like that –and I still have some in the freezer. He has become quite the gardener.

This reminds me of another one of my mother’s frequent vegetable dishes when we were growing up – it was a kind of stewed canned tomato that had bread mixed in with it. The closest thing I can find for that is a Better Homes & Gardens recipe for “scalloped tomatoes” that contained several slices of toasted bread cut into cubes. I think my mother’s version would have contained cut up homemade bread that wasn’t toasted.

I have written about my mother’s one and only cookbook, an Ida Bailey Allen Service cookbook but I think my mother only used it for baked things, like cookies; I took over that cookbook years ago—when I was about ten years old.

My mother had a few recipes in a recipe box that I now have. Despite being practically greenless as we grew up, somehow the whole bunch of us (six siblings) managed to grow up without breaking any arms or legs. I had a calcium deficiency that was diagnosed when my teeth kept crumbling until a doctor suggested I have them pulled and dentures made. So, at the age of 25, I acquired dentures. And oddly enough, despite taking four falls last year when I was recuperating from an illness—I didn’t break any bones. My doctors thought it remarkable that I didn’t break anything. (I think I was having problems with balance for about six months last year).

As for my mother, I want to add that when we were growing up in the 30s, 40s and into the 50s, my mother had a grocery allowance of $10.00 a week, which explains the homemade bread and meals made with organ meats such as kidneys and liver. Fresh vegetables had to cost more than canned at that time. She did the best she could with what she had.

I understand how it was—for many years of my marriage and before I went back to work in 1977, I had to make do with very little and do the best I could.

–Sandra Lee Smith

Surely Synchronicity!  Received this from girlfriend Doreen:

EATING IN THE FIFTIES

Pasta had not been invented.  It was macaroni or spaghetti.  Curry was a surname.  A take-away was a mathematical problem.  Pizza? Sounds like a leaning tower somewhere.  Bananas and oranges only appeared at Christmas time.  All chips were plain.

Rice was a milk pudding, and never, ever part of our dinner.

A Big Mac was what we wore when it was raining. Brown bread was something only poor people ate.  Oil was for lubricating, fat was for cooking.  Tea was made in a teapot using tea leaves and never green.  Cubed sugar was regarded as posh.  Chickens didn’t have fingers in those days.

None of us had ever heard of yogurt.  Healthy food consisted of anything edible.  Cooking outside was called camping.  Seaweed was not a recognized food.  ‘Kebab’ was not even a word, never mind a food. Sugar enjoyed a good press in those days, and was regarded as being white gold.  Prunes were medicinal.

Surprisingly muesli was readily available. It was called cattle feed.  Pineapples came in chunks in a tin; we had only ever seen a picture of a real one.  Water came out of the tap. If someone had suggested bottling it and charging more than gasoline for it they would have become a laughing stock.  The one thing that we never ever had on/at our table in the fifties…was elbows or hats!

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