Born in Filer, Idaho, Bracken grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and graduated from Antioch College in 1940. She married and moved to Portland, Oregon, where she worked as an advertising copywriter along with Homer Groening, father of Matt Groening.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Bracken's writing reassured women that they did not have to be perfect to have a happy, well-managed home. Her best-known book is "The I Hate to Cook Book", written in 1960. The book came about when she and some other working-women friends "pooled their ignorance" and came up with a core of recipes strong on ease of preparation. It was followed by "The I Hate to Housekeep Book" and "The Appendix to the I Hate to Cook Book". The two cookbooks were later published together as The Compleat I Hate to Cook Book. All are illustrated with amusing line drawings by Hilary Knight (best known for illustrating Eloise by Kay Thompson). The recipes are distinguished by unusual names and peppered with sardonic comments. For example, one recipe is for "Wolfe Eggs," which are for eggs the way the fictional Nero Wolfe would cook them. "Stayabed Stew" could be left to cook by itself and was perfect "for those days when you are en negligee, en bed, with a murder story and a box of bonbons, or possibly a good case of flu". A chapter on vegetables and salads is subtitled "This Side of Beriberi"; her selection of simple family-oriented main dishes is "30 Day-by-Day Entrees, or, The Rock Pile". She went on to write books in a similar vein on housekeeping, etiquette and travel. She also wrote humorous pieces for women's magazines.
... in the past few years I have unintentionally made some culinary discoveries, mainly involving prepared foods and easier ways to do things ... I am well aware that to skilled and ardent cooks my innocent pride in these findings will resemble that of the little man who showed up at the Patent Office last year with his new invention, designed for talking across distances, which he had named "the telephone."
Bracken continued writing into her 70s, publishing her last book, "On Getting Old for the First Time", in 1997. She died in 2007. The I Hate to Cook Book was updated and re-released in 2010.