Category Archives: PERSONAL FAVORITES

THE BEST OF THE BEST CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

You know, I am constantly trying new or different chocolate chip cookies and I have read about my quest on my blog. Not long ago I found the following recipe & decided IT is the best yet.

I have gotten in the habit of putting all the dry ingredients together—I line up the flour and other dry ingredients and put them through the sifter, then set it aside.(and I put away those ingredients so that I know I am finished with them. You may say well, duh, who doesn’t do that but I am well into my 70s and it’s a reminder for me.)

I have the room temperature butter and eggs set aside with the two kinds of sugar and the 2 teaspoons of vanilla. The chocolate chips and, if I am adding them– finely chopped walnuts or pecans are set aside to go in last. I am now ready to prepare the cookie dough.

To make these cookies you will need the following ingredients:

2¾ cups of flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder ( yes, both baking soda and baking powder)
1 tsp cinnamon (this wasn’t in the original recipe; I added it).

Put all of these ingredients in your sifter in the order given so you will have a good distribution of the ingredients. Sift and set aside.

You will need 2 ½ sticks of unsweetened butter, softened to room temperature
1 ¾ cups dark brown sugar*
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature
2 tsp real vanilla extract (I have learned over time to use good authentic vanilla extract)

*if you can’t find dark brown sugar, use the regular golden light brown sugar. for some reason I was unable to find dark brown for several months. When I did find it, I loaded up the grocery cart.

Beat the butter until it is well blended, then begin adding the dark brown sugar, then the granulated sugar. Next add the eggs, one at a time until blended. Lastly, add the vanilla. Now you begin adding the flour, usually about a cup at a time, until all the flour has been incorporated. Now remove the bowl from your electric mixer.

You will need to hand mix in the final ingredients.

When all the flour is mixed into the wet ingredients, stir in the chocolate chips. OK, the recipe says 2 cups of chips. I add a lot of chocolate chips (the good semi-sweet chocolate chips. I probably double the amount of chips to the recipe. If I am adding chopped pecans, I generally bake about half of the chocolate chip dough and then add the chopped pecans, because my family loves just plain chocolate chip cookies & they aren’t about to change their taste buds any time soon. I add pecans when the cookies are for the women I bowl with or anyone else who likes pecans.

Bake the cookies on parchment paper in a preheated 350 degree oven. If I am not in a hurry, I will do one tray at a time, 6 cookies to a baking sheet in the middle of the oven. I use a scoop that is the equivalent of two tablespoons, leveled. I bake the cookies for 5 minutes, then turn the tray around for another 5 minutes. If I am baking two trays of cookie dough at a time, I switch the trays, top to lower and front to back, for another five minutes of baking==in which case, you need to adjust the two racks as best fits your oven.

BEST thing you can do is bake a couple test cookies to see what works best for your oven. I have a very old 1940s stove that I love. and just so you know, I can still burn a tray of cookies, if I forget to set the timer–this usually happens around the end of the cookie baking when I start to clean up my baking materials. I have been doing this since my sons were young boys, so it has nothing to do with AGE, just a matter of paying attention to what I am doing.

I have been baking cookies once a week for the ladies I bowl with–they like them so much that when the league ended at the end of the year, the ladies gave me a big basket filled with flour, butter, chocolate chips, baking powder, 4 pounds of granulated sugar, 2 pounds of brown sugar, a bottle of vanilla extract–everything you need to make chocolate chip cookies! (how SWEET was THAT?)

I like to buy new cookie sheets about every 2 or 3 years but if you line the cookie sheets with parchment paper, the cookie sheets will last a lot longer. Just saying!

Sandra Smith aka the cookie lady

BEFORE EMAIL

THE FOLLOWING WAS POSTED ON MY BLOG IN 2010. i have made necessary changes to bring it up to date:

Before computers and email…a lot of people actually wrote honest-to-goodness letters. To help promote letter-writing amongst pen-pals, there were, in the 1960s through the 1980s, a group of monthly magazines, published by Tower Press, whose primary function was to bring together people (mostly women) who were looking for pen-pals with similar interests. The Tower Press magazine “WOMEN’S CIRCLE” published letters submitted by women who were looking for pen-pals, sometimes from foreign countries, or mothers with small children seeking other mothers with whom they could exchange ideas and find a sympathetic ear. However, if you were looking for a particular lost recipe or an old fondly-remembered cookbook, if you wanted to exchange post cards or stamps, whatever you were looking for—Women’s Circle was there to lend a helping hand. This monthly magazine even included a column for teenagers, called Teensville; girls and boys looking for pen-pals were invited to write a letter and submit a recent photo of themselves. Women’s Circle published the letters. The Exchange Column invited readers from everywhere in the world to write a letter, expressing their interests. Generally, along with your name and address, you included your date of birth and your wedding anniversary date, the names and ages of your children, as well as your hobbies and collections.

In addition to “WOMEN’S CIRCLE”, the Tower Press publishers also published a magazine called “GOOD OLD DAYS” which contained nostalgic photos, poems, drawings, cartoons, ads, songs, and articles. They also published a magazine called “WOMEN’S CIRCLE HOME COOKING” and, for people into sewing and crafts, there were “POPULAR NEEDLEWORK & CRAFTS”, “STITCH ‘N SEW”, “POPULAR HANDICRAFT & HOBBIES”, “AUNT JANE’S SEWING CIRCLE”, and “OLDE TIME NEEDLEWORK PATTERNS & DESIGNS”. Similar to “Women’s Circle” were “Women’s Household” and “Women’s Comfort” magazines.

When I began thinking about those “WOMEN’S CIRCLE” magazines I wondered – What happened to all of those Tower Press publications? An internet search revealed that the original issue of WOMEN’S CIRCLE magazine was published in February, 1960, ending with the March/April, 1997 issue. Tower Press was bought out by House of White Birches; the latter was founded over 50 years ago in New England by two brothers, Ed and Mike Kutlowski, who were pioneers in the magazine industry. The Kutlowskis retired in 1985 and sold their business to printers Carl and Art Muselman. The Muselmans moved the House of White Birches to Berne, their hometown, and the location of their printing company, EP Graphics. HWB currently publishes eight magazines, many of which were launched in the 1970s and are still popular today. Included are “GOOD OLD DAYS” and “HOME COOKING”. “HOME COOKING” appears to be the last remnant of the original Tower Press format of reader submission of favorite recipes. The idea of a magazine devoted primarily to pen-pals appears to have fallen by the wayside, overtaken, perhaps, by today’s computer generated email and chat rooms. (However, I was bemused to discover—in an Internet search on Google.com, an article written by a young woman who happened to discover an old issue of “WOMEN’S HOUSEHOLD” at an antique store. Consequently, she and some friends started up a monthly publication they call “American Homebody” which was based on Women’s Household. The author wrote, “I liked the neighborliness of ‘Women’s Household’ and was intrigued by the way the magazine created a community of like-minded individuals scattered across the country who looked forward each month for articles about women…” So, it seems, the memory—and ideas– of “WOMEN’S HOUSEHOLD” and “WOMEN’S CIRCLE” live on.

Go back with me, in time, and let me share with you how things were before email came along.

I began subscribing to Women’s Circle in the mid 1960s. Specifically, I think I “discovered” WC in 1965. I think I began finding the magazine on the magazine racks of the supermarket where we shopped. Around that same time, I became interested in collecting cookbooks. Simultaneously, a friend of mine told me about a Culinary Arts Institute cookbook on Hungarian cuisine that she was searching for.

“I bet I know where we can find it!” I told her. I wrote a letter to Women’s Circle, asking for the cookbook, offering to pay cash. As an afterthought, I added that I was interested in buying/exchanging for old cookbooks, particularly club-and-church cookbooks. Little did I suspect what an avalanche of mail would fill my mailbox when my letter was published! I received over 250 letters. We purchased several of the Hungarian cookbooks and I began buying/trading for many other cookbooks which formed the nucleus of my cookbook collection. And I have to tell you something that I think was pretty spectacular—I was never “cheated” or short-changed by anyone. Even more spectacular were the friendships that I formed, as a result of that one letter, which still exist to this day.

One of the first letters I received was from another cookbook collector, a woman who lived in Michigan. Betsy and I—both young mothers at the time (now grandmothers)—have remained pen-pals for over 50 years, while our children grew up, married, and had children of their own. The first time I met Betsy and her husband, Jim, they drove from Michigan to Cincinnati, where I was visiting my parents, to pick up me and my children, so that we could spend a week visiting them in Michigan. A few years later, my friends repeated the gesture – driving hundreds of miles to Cincinnati to pick us up and then returning us to my parents’ home a week or so later. On one of those trips, I took my younger sister Susie along with us and we all have fond memories of going blueberry picking at a berry farm. We visited the Kellogg factory and went to some of the flea markets where you could find hundreds of club-and-church cookbooks for as little as ten cents each (remember, this was the 1960s!). On one of those visits, I met Betsy’s British pen-pal, Margaret, who was also visiting. We had such a wonderful time together.

Also in 1965, I responded to a letter written to “WOMEN’S CIRCLE” by an Australian woman named Margaret. She was seeking penpals but received such a flood of letters from the USA that she took them to her tennis club, spread them out on a table and said “If anyone would like an American pen-friend, here you are!” A young woman named Eileen—who was, like myself, married to a man named Jim, and—like me—also had a son named Steven—chose my letter. We’ve been corresponding ever since. In 1980, when we were living in Florida, we met Eileen and Jim for the first time and from the time they got off the plane and walked up to us, it was just like greeting an old friend or relative. (We liked—and trusted—them so much that we lent our camper to them to drive around the USA). When they reached Los Angeles, they contacted, and met, friends of ours who lived in the San Fernando Valley. About a year later, our friends from California were visiting us, when the best friends of my Aussie friends’ (who lived in London) contacted us in Miami and paid us a visit. The following year, when my California friends visited London, they paid a return visit to their new London acquaintances. (I hope you have followed all of this. It’s sort of like the begats. One friendship begat another one. Years later, the London couple would immigrate to Australia and we became better friends via email, exchanging recipes and gardening tips. Sadly, the husband of one of my Aussie friends lost his battle with cancer recently. It’s like losing a life-long friend!

Another young woman who wrote to me was a housewife/mother who lives near Salem, Oregon. She wrote in response to a letter that I had written to Tower Press, noting that we shared the same birthday. In 1974, Bev & Leroy and their children visited us on their way to Disneyland. In 1978, my husband and children and I drove to Oregon where we visited my pen-pal and her family. I’ve lost count of the number of times they have visited us in California. And yes, we’re still penpals. In 2007, I flew to Portland and they met my flight. We spent a week together, visiting lighthouses – and for our joint birthday, Leroy took us to Three Sisters, Oregon, for the day. It was snowing in the cascades! No snow at lower elevations – we thought it was a good birthday present from the heavens.

Another pen-pal acquired in the 1960s was my friend Penny, who lives in Oklahoma. We first visited Penny and her husband Charles and their three sons in 1971, on our way to Cincinnati for a summer vacation. We spent a night at Penny’s and were sent on our way the next morning with a bagful of her special chocolate chip cookies. What I remember most about that visit was my father’s reaction when we arrived in Cincinnati. He kept asking, “How do you know these people in Oklahoma?” (The concept of pen-pals was a foreign one to both my parents).

Two other pen-pals were acquired when we moved to Florida. Lonesome and homesick, I wrote yet another letter to Women’s Circle, and mentioned my love of Christmas (and preparing for it all year long). One of these was a woman in Louisiana and the other was an elderly widowed lady who lived in my home state of Ohio. We were penpals for 25 years.

The downside to having penpals, if there is a downside, is that sometimes letters stop coming – both of these women had become old and had many health issues…perhaps there is no one left to write to their pals to tell you what had happened to them. I think by now they have passed away.

Before everyone owned a computer and Internet services flooded the market – we had Prodigy. The concept of Prodigy, at that time, was to offer bulletin boards to which you could write, asking for friends, recipes, whatever. It was through Prodigy that I became acquainted with my friend Pat and her husband Stan. We met for the first time when Bob & I went to the L.A. County Fair one year. Pat & Stan came to visit us at our motel in Pomona; they lived in nearby Covina. Eventually, Prodigy would be overcome by AOL, Earthlink, Juno—and the dozens of other Internet services which have changed our lives so drastically. I think the one greatest thing about the Internet is that it has brought so many of our family members and friends back together again.

As for “WOMEN’S CIRCLE”—the first food-related articles I sold were to this magazine. It was thrilling to see these published. One included photographs that a photographer friend took for me. Then, in 1977, I went back to work full-time and the Tower Press magazines slipped from my radar. But the friendships forged by these magazines have remained an integral part of my life. Yours too, I hope.

And now we have- the Internet…Facebook and blogs, such as this one of mine, sandychatter. But there is still much to be said for the art of writing letters, of finding letters and cards from all over the USA in your
mailbox. Much nicer than finding only bills and flyers in the mailbox!

In 2005, a penpal named Wendy was publishing a newsletter called Inky Trail News and this in turn led to her forming groups, such as one for retirees—Wendy herself has long since retired and the groups have mostly faded away—however, two women, Canadians, became my own personal good friends—not just penpals and the three of us email one another daily.

In 2008, Sharon came to visit me and we did a grand California tour for two weeks, visiting the Redwoods and Yosemite. Then, in 2009, I visited Sharon in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and had the time of my life meeting her friends and doing all the touristy things one does at Niagara Falls. All because of being penpals!

There are undoubtedly other newsletters for those of us who grew up with penpals in our lives. Sometimes penpals come into your life and stay forever while others may come and go. I am reminded of a Vietnamese refugee penpal I had while in high school. She attended a Catholic high school in New York while I attended one in Cincinnati. The nuns offered to exchange names and Anne Nam Hai became my penpal. I lost contact with Anne after graduating from high school. But oh, the joy, over the years, of exchanging letters, recipes, photographs and sometimes small gifts with a penpal far away—email on the internet may fill some of the void but I have to tell you, I still get a thrill finding real letters in my mailbox. And my lady mail carrier – who has only known me for severa; years – knows when I have received a box of cookbooks from my penpal in Michigan and always carries the box up to the door. 

Before Email….all we had were letters – and even though I am still an avid letter writer, I have to admit – computers have greatly broadened our horizons.

–Sandra Lee Smith

OUTDOOR WATER SAVING TIPS FOR CALIFORNIANS

OUTDOOR WATER SAVING TIPS FOR CALIFORNIANS

1. WATER BEFORE SUNRISE WHEN TEMPS ARE COOLER. THIS WILL REDUCE WATER LOSS FROM WIND AND EVAPORATION EACH TIME YOU WATER. SAVE 25 GALLONS EACH TIME YOU WATER.

2. WATER DEEPLY BUT LESS FREQUENTLY TO CREATE HEALTHIER AND STRONGER LANDSCAPES. USE THIS EASY CALCULATOR: HTTP://WWW.BEWATERWISE.COM/CALCULATOR HTML

3. CHECK YOUR SPRINKLER SYSTEM FREQUENTLY AND ADJUST SPRINKLERS SO ONLY YOUR LAWN IS WATERED AND NOT THE HOUSE, SIDEWALK OR STREET. FOR MORE TIPS VISIT: WWW.SAVEOURWATER.COM. CLICK ON SPRINKLERS 101

4. USE A BROOM TO CLEAN DRIVEWAYS, SIDEWALKS AND PATIOS TO AVOID FINES AND SAVE: 8-18 GALLONS/MINUTE.

5. WASH CARS/BOATS WITH A BUCKET, SPONGE AND HOSE WITH SELF-CLOSING NOZZLE

6. PUT A LAYER OF MULCH AROUND TREES AND PLANTS TO REDUCE EVAPORATIONS AND KEEP THE SOIL COOL. ORGANIC MULCH ALSO IMPROVES THE SOIL AND PREVENTS WEEDS. SAVE: 20-30 GALLS/EACH TIME YOU WATER.

7. PLANT DROUGHT-RESISTANT TREES AND PLANTS. SAVE 30-60 GALLONS EACH TIME YOU WATER/ 1,000 SQ FT.

8. CHOOSE A WATER-EFFICIENT IRRIGATION SYSTEMS SUCH AS DRIP IRRIGATION FOR YOUR TREES, SHRUBS, AND FLOWERS. REMEMBER TO TURN IT OFF WHEN IT RAINS. SAVE: 15 GALLONS EACH TIME YOU WATER.

PROVIDED BY THE QUARTZ HILL WATER DISTRICT

THE KITCHEN DIARIES

I began collecting cookbooks (primarily church-and-club type) over 45 years ago. Soon after, I discovered a “manuscript” cookbook – or more accurately, it discovered me. I was rummaging around in a used book store in Hollywood when the owner said “I have something interesting in a cookbook – let me show it to you”. It was a small 3-ring binder with an old leather cover and it was filled with hand written recipes as well as hundreds of clipped-and-pasted on recipes. Its owner had kept her notebook cookbook for decades – and I bought it for about $10.00 (which doesn’t sound like much, now, but at the time I was raising my family and it was a lot) – but I had to have it. Over the years, I’ve found a few more manuscript-type cookbooks but they’re really scarce. My theory is that this type of cookbook remains in the family. I don’t believe that the owner of that first manuscript cookbook, whose name, I discovered, was Helen, had any children. Surely, one’s children would never allow something so precious to end up in a used book store.

Then I became interested in recipe boxes when I found an old, green, wooden recipe box in Ventura, California, at an antique store. It was packed with the former owner’s collection of recipes. I was so intrigued by this type of collection – what I think of as a kitchen diary – that I began a diligent search for filled recipe boxes. These are just about as scarce and hard to find as handwritten cookbooks. Often, you can find recipe boxes – in thrift stores or antique shops – but they are usually empty. I think the storekeepers don’t imagine anyone would be interested in the contents, which are often scrappy little pieces of paper, recipes clipped from the back of a bag of macaroni or flour, recipes written on a piece of envelope, – but over the past 15 or 20 years, I’ve managed to find quite a few of these filled recipe boxes. One time my niece, who lives in Palm Springs, found three of them for me at a yard sale; it helps that so many people know about my fascination with old, filled recipe boxes. Another time, a girlfriend of mine was telling me about helping a friend of hers clear out her mother’s apartment, after her mother had passed away. “Oh,” I said “Ask your friend if her mother had any recipe boxes”. She did – and I got it. She also had, and gave to me, several cookbook autographed by cookbook author Mike Roy, with whom her mother had been acquainted. On yet another occasion, I was given half a dozen filled recipe boxes that had belonged to the aunt of a woman I worked with.

Now, I collect all types of recipe boxes but the ones I cherish the most are those filled with someone else’s recipe collection. One of these boxes is so old that the contents are extremely fragile and bits of paper disintegrate whenever you handle them.

Yard sales where I live rarely yield such treasures although once we were at an estate sale and I happened to find a cardboard box – shaped like a file drawer – filled with handwritten recipe cards on oversize cards, about a 4×6” size. I was able to buy it for $2.00. Part of the charm, or intrigue, of owning these boxes is going through them piece by piece, and trying to learn something about the person who compiled the box. I leave all of these boxes exactly “as is” because I feel to change them would change the integrity of the collection.

What makes these recipe boxes so enticing? I think old recipe boxes, filled with someone’s collection of recipes, are a window into our culinary past. Eventually, no doubt, someone else will discover these treasures, too, but in the meantime, I like to think that what I have is a fairly unique collection.

–Sandra Lee Smith

originally posted 4/2011

GOODBYE, MOCKINGBIRD

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—-Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it” – Harper Lee quote from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

“Shoot all the blue jays if you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” – from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

In the Saturday, February 20, 2016 issue of the Los Angeles Times, they printed a lengthy obituary of a very well-known author, Harper Lee, who passed away at the age of 89. I was a huge fan of her 1960 novel “TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD”

Until Charles Shields wrote “MOCKINGBIRD, A PORTRAIT OF HARPER LEE” published in 2006 by Henry Holt and Company, too not much was known about Harper Lee, who remained a very private person for most of her life.

Despite this, she endured “a punishing promotional tour” to promote the film “TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD”, starring Gregory Peck in 1962.

One writer noted that “TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD” published in 1960 at dawn of the civil-rights struggle has been called the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of its day.

Like Harriet Beecher Stowe’s classic, MOCKINGBIRD is built around the depredations visited on a black man in the South, Tom Robinson, who is defended against a trumped-up rape charge by a white lawyer named Atticus Finch.

The novel won the Pulitzer Prize and sold over 30 million copies in dozens of languages. In fact, it has not been out of print since it was first published and has been required reading in many high schools.

Shortly after TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD was published, it was picked up by the Book-of-the-Month-Club and the Literary Club and a condensed version appeared in Reader’s Digest magazine.

“Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts” – from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

The following year, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD won the Pulitzer Prize as well as several other literary awards. Horton Foote wrote a screenplay based on the novel and used the same title for the 1962 film adaptation. Lee visited the set during filming and gave a lot of interviews to support the project.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD earned eight Academy Award nominations; the movie version won three awards, including best actor for Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Finch. The character is said to have been based on Lee’s father.

In 2007, President George W. Bush presented Lee with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her “outstanding contribution to America’s literary tradition”, at a ceremony at the White House

(I am noting that she never refused attendance for events such as the Presidential Medal of Freedom; after reading articles on Google and the lengthy article that appeared in the L.A. Times on February 20, 2016, I don’t think Lee was against luncheons with her friends of family or friends—I concluded that she just got fed up with reporters and as a rule refused all requests for interviews).

In 2007, also, Lee suffered a stroke and struggled with various ongoing health problems including hearing loss and limited vision and problems with short-term memory.

After the stroke, Lee moved into an assisted living facility in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. Using a magnifying device to read, necessary for her macular degeneration, Lee was able to keep up with reading. Her sister once said that “books are the things she cares about”.

In 2013 Lee filed a lawsuit in a federal court against literary agent Samuel Pinkus charging that in 2007 Pinkus engaged in a scheme to dupe her out of the coyright TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, later diverting royalties from the work.

In September 2013, a settlement was reached in the lawsuit.

In 2014, Lee allowed TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD to be released as an e-book; she signed a deal with HarperCollins to release TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD as an e-book and digital audio editions. But, Lee explained (for which I wholeheartedly understand) that she was “Still old fashioned. I love dusty old books and libraries…” She said she was amazed and humbled that MOCKINGBIRD has survived this long.

While TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD was the first novel Lee had published, it wasn’t the first one she wrote. Her first novel, GO SET A WATCHMAN had been submitted to a publisher in 1957. When the novel wasn’t accepted, Lee’s editor asked her to revise the story and make her main character, Scout, a child. Lee worked on the story for two years and it eventually became TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD.

For decades, Lee shunned requests for interviews and claimed she was finished with writing—so that when HarperCollins announced in early 2015 that they planned to publish a new Harper Lee novel, they received a mixed bag of responses—from delight to dismay. The title of the “new” novel, GO SET A WATCHMAN was actually written years earlier and was discovered by Lee’s lawyer in Harper’s safe-deposit box.

With reports that 88-year old Lee suffered failing health, questions arose about the publication of the novel. Lee issued a statement that she was “alive and kicking and happy as hell with the reactions to WATCHMAN”. Alabama officials investigated and found no evidence that she was a victim to coercion.

Controversy aside, WATCHMAN broke pre-sale records for publishing house HarperCollins and was on target to become one of the fastest selling literary works in history.

Harper Lee (whose first name was actually Nelle) passed away in her sleep on February 19, 2016, at the age of 89, in an assisted living facility in Monroeville, Alabama.

“People generally see what they look for and hear what they listen for” – from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

And finally, she wrote, in MOCKINGBIRD, “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what”.

I was going on twenty years old when TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD” was published. There was a reason why it resonated with me, personally, as a human being. I don’t think I ever suffered from any racial feelings or beliefs.

When I was about fifteen years old, I wrote a short fictional story called THE STORY OF GLENDA. Glenda was a young woman whose father was a black man and her mother was a white woman. I would type my stories one page at a time, single spaced—and then share them with childhood girlfriends and high school classmates who all waited with bated breath for the next installment.

About the time Lee was writing TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, I was writing short stories trying to change the racial beliefs of people with whom I came in contact. I didn’t know or come in contact with any African Americans throughout my childhood or adolescence.

God is good; fourteen years ago, my biracial grandson was born. He is the light of our lives.

Harper Lee also wrote “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience”.

–Sandra Lee Smith

Christmas MEMORIES 2015

CHRISTMAS MEMORIES 2015

We all have memories, good or bad, happy or sad, of the Christmas holidays throughout our lives.

My earliest memory took place when I was five years old. That year, all of my dolls disappeared mysteriously, only to reappear in new clothing on Christmas Eve. My family celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve. When I was about ten years old, I began taking my two younger brothers downtown with me–Downtown Cincinnati where we did all of our Christmas shopping in the five and ten cent stores but we also visited the department stores to see the downtown Santas, who gave children a peppermint stick. We three have wonderful memories of those trips downtown – first in street cars, later on by bus when the city retired the street cars.

We somehow managed—on such limited funds—to buy a grilled cheese sandwich and a coke at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, which we three shared. With perhaps a couple of dollars in nickels, dimes and pennies, we bought gifts for both parents, each other and any living grandparents. Once back to our house on Sutter Street, we surreptitiously hurried upstairs, to my room, where we wrapped our presents—wrapped in pre-used gift wrap that I would iron to make it look like new again.

One year, my brother Biff gave Dad a little wax Santa boot that contained a couple of peppermints; everyone laughed when Dad opened his present from Biff. Biff ran upstairs, mortified that everyone laughed at his gift. Consequently, the entire family had to go upstairs to convince Biff that they weren’t laughing AT Biff’s gift but that they laughed that it was such a wonderful present.

Undoubtedly, none of the adults—my parents or grandmothers or any of our aunts and uncles—had any idea how little money we had managed to save to buy our presents. Neither of my parents had ever given any of us allowances. In my childhood memories of the years following World War II we struggled to come up with any money. I could sell greeting cards that my mother sold for Cardinal Craftsman, we cashed in pop bottles that I think, at the time, could be redeemed for one or two cents each.

When they grew a little older, my brothers could try to drum up some cash shoveling snow for our neighbors and when I was about twelve years old, I began babysitting for some of our neighbors. I babysat my brothers all of the time but that wasn’t something you got paid for.

I have no idea how my younger brothers came up with enough money to go Christmas shopping—but Bill always had the most change (usually in pennies) that he kept in a small change purse in a coat pocket–all of us were aware of the treachery of shoplifters. No shoplifters ever got any of OUR money.

I remember that we got sent to my grandmother’s house on Christmas Eve day where we spent the afternoon, until my father came to pick us up in his car. Sometimes, my dad’s cousin, Barbara, who was my godmother, came along with him. I liked seeing Barbara because she always gave me a nice gift. My mother decorated our tree when we were all away from home on December 24. She waited until she could get a leftover tree for fifty cents from the tree lot on Beekman Street.

I’m not sure when our tradition of shopping “downtown” which to any native Cincinnatian always meant “Cincinnati” –happened to begin and then end; maybe it was when we moved to North College Hill and downtown was so far away, or it may have ended when “Downtown” suffered a slump with the advent of the malls out in the suburbs.

At any rate, we began going our separate ways—especially once I was going to high school. (My relationship with Downtown Cincinnati continued, however)—I began working at Western Southern Life Insurance—located downtown—after graduation. I would shop around the various streets ferreting out thrift shops and second hand stores.

In December of 1958, Jim & I got married and we had our first little Christmas at home. I would go to one of the five and ten cent stores to buy the pieces to a nativity, one at a time until I had a full set. I still have that nativity which my four sons grew up on. When the boys were little, they liked to play with the nativity. At one time, the Joseph of the nativity set had gone missing and we had one of the three kings to fill in for him until we either found the original Joseph or I bought another one.

I loved Christmas so much—over the years, our Christmases became more and more elaborate and I would go on baking binges with a girlfriend. We would make as many as thirty kinds of cookies and divide everything up when it got close enough to make up the batches of cookies in tins. (One year—in the 70s, I think—there was a sugar crisis in the USA and a five pound bag of sugar cost more than gas). I shopped and bought bags of sugar one at a time, hoarding it so we could still make cookies. The upside to the sugar crisis is that I learned how to make a lot of cookies using honey.

A divorce in 1986 didn’t stop me from decorating the trees (now more than one. At the height of our tree-decorating mania, we decorated eight trees around the house in Arleta.

Between 1989 and 2007, Bob and I decorated trees all over the house. I should add, we accepted any artificial tree friends or neighbors no longer wanted. We took all rejects. I think Bob found discarded artificial trees on our front lawn a few times.

As most of our friends and family members know, in 2008, Bob and I moved to the Antelope Valley, into a house much smaller than the 3,000 ft Arleta house to a 1500 ft house. And in 2011, my Christmas-mania cohort passed away, where I suspect he is advising Saint Peter how the entrance to the golden gate should be properly decorated for the holidays.

Since then, I have gradually been downsizing; I packed up all the angels I could find amongst our huge collection of ornaments and I sent them to a friend in Florida whose house burned down, taking with it her collection of angels–I sent three or four boxes of angel ornaments and decorations to her.

Maybe new traditions are in the wings, waiting to be resurrected; When Savannah was two years old, I began decorating Christmas cookies with her. For a long time we held cookie and craft parties, having the children decorate something like an ornament, and then decorate large cookies to take home.

I thought that tradition had been outgrown along with our children – but a few days ago, my niece Nikki brought over her 4 year old nephew and 2 year old niece; the children decorated turkey and pumpkin cookies. I just happened to have an assortment of different colored frostings for the children to use. (who SAYS a turkey can’t be painted pink or blue?) and I discovered that we now have a new set of little ones to decorate cookies.

Years ago, Nikki was one of the youngsters participating in the cookie-and-craft event at my house—now she was showing her brother’s children how it is done.

When I sat down to write a Christmas letter about my life in 2015, I had no idea what to write about, other than the trip to Seattle for my niece Leslie’s wedding last summer. The truth is, I am still lost without Bob being here to untangle strings of lights and dig through all the stuff in the garage to find whatever I think is missing.

I leave you with this, written before Bob became ill:

T’was a week before Christmas
And all through the house,
Gift-wrap was littered, it
Even covered a spouse,
Who sat forlorn in his old easy chair,
Wondering if there was
An extra cookie to spare—
For cookies were baked
And filled every tin
But to eat even one
Would be considered a sin—
(Unless it was one that was broken or burned)
Decorations hung everywhere that you turned.
In the guest room, presents were piled everywhere,
And trees were put up, not a moment to spare—
Twinkling lights and ornaments too,
But it will look pretty festive when we’re all through—
I’ve scorched all my fingers giving candy a test
And thought it was time that I had a good rest;
When out on the roof there arose such a clatter,
I dashed to the door to see what was the matter;
Up on a ladder, Grandpa swayed to and fro—
Trying to decide where the fake reindeer should go—
I was sure he would fall and smash all the lights
I shouted come down and we’ll fix it all right! **
The dollhouse is back where it belongs
And hundreds of CDs play holiday songs,
Pork Loin’s in the freezer and wood on the fire,
Eggnog in the frig we hope will inspire
But if not there is brandy, bourbon and port
To serve every guest who is a good sport;
We’ll work at it all until we fall with a jerk
And let Santa get credit for all our hard work!

(You haven’t been forgotten Grandpa/Uncle Bob)

–Sandra Lee Smith

FOR THE LOVE OF BOOKS

Mark Twain once said “Those who don’t read good books have no advantage over those who can’t”.

Before I ever embarked on a quest to collect as many cookbooks as I could, I was interested in two particular authors; one was Norah Lofts, perhaps the most prolific fiction novel author in my collection (*There are undoubtedly other authors who have written as many if not more novels than Norah Lofts—but I am referencing just those authors whose work I have collected). I began collecting the works of Norah Lofts around in 1965, about the same time I began collecting cookbooks. Norah Lofts’ published works is enormous—so much so that she has published works under other names. When I began collecting the fiction (as well as some non-fiction) works of Norah Lofts, I would buy two or three copies for a girlfriend here in California—as well as for a penpal in Australia. You could often find one of her titles for about a dollar each. My collection of Norah Lofts is undoubtedly incomplete, as I discovered when I began finding titles published in the United Kingdom but not always in the USA. The Internet has changed all that!

Another much-loved author was Janice Holt Giles. I think I began searching for her titles in roughly the same time period as I was searching for Norah Lofts. Again, I would buy more than one copy of JHG’s novels—one for me, one for girlfriend Connie – and sometimes one for my Aussie penpal. I think I have all of Giles’ published titles—several were published after she passed away, by the University Press of Kentucky, (I was in a Barnes & Noble Bookstore in Newport, Kentucky, with a nephew, grabbing up reprints and newly published copies of Giles’ books and I exclaimed to the cashier “I can’t believe how many of my favorite Kentucky authors you have on your shelves” – to which he drawled, “well, MAM, You ARE in Kentucky!” My nephew Russ and I laughed all the way back across the bridge to Cincinnati.

Kentucky was Giles’ home for most of her life—and the setting, often, for one of her novels. I once wrote a letter to Giles, in appreciation for one of my favorite novels, “The Believers” – she sent me a typewritten response, mentioning that the day she received MY letter, she also received a letter from a fan in another state, also about The Believers. It was through Giles’ novels that I developed a love for and an abiding appreciation for American pioneers.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.

Another favorite fiction author of mine—but one who only wrote a few novels—was a woman named Ardyth Kennelly. “The Peaceable Kingdom” was followed by a sequel, “Up Home” and are two books I have read repeatedly. The setting was Salt Lake City and the period of time was when Polygamy was being practiced. Also published was “Marry Me, Carry Me” and “The Spur”.
I am aware through the Internet that Kennelly had many other publications and works, not necessarily fiction novels; she passed away in 2005 at the age of 92. “Variation West” is a 2014 novel published posthumously and I don’t have that one yet. (I found an excellent article about Ardyth Kennelly in Wikipedia, for anyone who wants more information about Kennelly’s life.)

I remember back in the 1970s, when I took my young children to Ohio for the summer, taking my kid brother with me to downtown Cincinnati to explore the extensive shelves of a large used book store named Acre of Books—I had begun collecting cookbooks but still searched for books by any of my favorite authors; it is one of the major blessings of the Internet that you don’t have to search for the bookstores or their contents—it all comes to you via the Internet.

I would search for anything by Janice Holt Giles, Norah Lofts, Ardyth Kennelly—and some others. I had not yet discovered many of the authors whose works I would search for, and collect, for my own bookshelves. I also started a steno notebook of the business cards for bookstores that crossed my path—as well as the telephone book yellow pages in the cities I visited spanning several decades of my adult life – B.I. (before internet). It came as a distinct shock when, in 2008, my Canadian penpal Sharon and I stopped to visit a favorite book store in San Luis Obispo – only to find it gone; all that remained was an empty store front. Obviously, what the country gained in Internet services providing vendors throughout the country, we lost something vital to the life’s blood of any avid book lover….actually being there, browsing, touching, finding—and buying books.

Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it. – P. J. O’Rourke

And one of my favorites: Anyone who says they have only one life to live must not know how to read a book. –Author Unknown**

One of my favorite chefs, Louis Szathmary arrived, in his own words, “virtually penniless” in New York in 1951, with only fourteen books in his small wooden trunk. He appeared to have been fond of telling the story of arriving on our shores with $1.10 in his pocket, one change of underwear, two pairs of socks, one Sunday suit – and fourteen books. (It is worth noting that the 14 books Szathmary treasured most were not donated to any of the universities. The books he carried with him to America included a Bible he received as a child, three books on Mozart and several volumes of Hungarian poetry.

Upon his arrival in America, Szathmary began to collect books. Writes Szathmary, “My first purchase was a book by Ludwig Bemelmans at the Marlboro outlet store at 42nd Street and Broadway, where in 1952 all the remainder books were sold for nineteen cents each.” Szathmary confessed that he worked two jobs in the beginning, one during the day and another at night—and spent all the money he made on books. Of his early days in America, Szathmary said that he would spend hours in the Salvation Army basement searching for books, which he purchased for as little as five cents each. He said, “I rummaged through books in bins, on tables outside the door, and amid the garbage the accumulates in the back of used bookshops. I found treasures—valuable items—because I had the time.” Later, as time and money improved, he often worked at one job during the day and another in the evening. On the seventh day, he recalled, “I spent all the money I made on books.” (A man after my own heart!)
**
Szathmary’s confessions about buying books struck a chord in me; when I first started working full time at Western/Southern Life Insurance Company in downtown Cincinnati, where I was born, I often spent a portion of my paycheck on books that I found in thrift stores—sometimes in trays placed outside the entrance—for 25 cents each. Some times I found old early editions of Nancy Drew books. I wasn’t in the least interested in finding old books for their value—I wanted them because I wanted books; I didn’t want to just READ the books; I wanted to OWN them.

After Jim & I moved to California, my mother began sending my books to me and I began searching for used book stores in Burbank or North Hollywood, where we had settled. I found paperback mysteries at a used book store in North Hollywood, that I could buy for ten cents each. Michael was about 2 years old and in a stroller when I would walk to that bookstore in North Hollywood.

(I was a steady customer of another used book store in Burbank, on Magnolia, for decades—until the owner, Pete, passed away. When I would take all four sons to that book store, he’d warn me “I’m counting children! Make sure you leave with the right number!” What a fantastic bookstore THAT one was.

Are all the used book stores a thing of the past? Brand Bookshop in Glendale? Moe’s in Berkeley? Ravenscar Books in Sherman Oaks? The Book Village in Pasadena? David’s Books in Ann Arbor? After Words, also in Ann Arbor? Margaret Mannati in San Diego? Vintage Books in Vancouver (Washington)? Bart’s Books in Ojai, California? Madhatters’ Old Books in Langley, Washington? Phantom Bookshop in Ventura, California? Book Castle, Inc., Burbank, California? Shorey’s Used, Rare and New Books in Seattle, Wa? Simmer Pot Press/More than Just Cookbooks, in Boone, North Carolina? Yesterday’s Books in Washington, DC? Idle Time Books, also in Washington, DC? Earthling Book Shop and Café in Santa Barbara, CA? Again Books, also in Santa Barbara? Bookcellar in Carson City, NV? Timeless Books in Redding, CA? the Seattle Book Center, Seattle, WA? CODY’S BOOKS in Berkeley, CA? and one of my all-time favorite sources for cookbooks, MARION GORE BOOKSELLER in San Gabriel, CA? (I know, she has been gone for a long time—but not long ago I came across one of the annual booklets she would publish and send to customers. I met her once a long time ago.

And how about some of your favorite book stores?

The only redemption that we have is that many booksellers are now peddling their wares on sites like Amazon.com. It’s not the same thing as walking into a dusty used bookstore and spending hours browsing through their shelves—but it may be the next best thing—providing us access to hundreds of used bookstores of the past.

–Sandy@sandychatter