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Sherrie Norris Lovin’ Spoonful Cooking Column: Today’s Challenge: Making Every Morsel Count

By Sherrie Norris

I remember when times were hard during my childhood and youth, even into my early years of marriage.

I recall hearing my dear mother say something about “Robbing Peter to pay Paul.” I remember seeing her sit at the kitchen table with checkbook in hand at the end of every month with a worried look upon her sweet face. I didn’t have a clue.

I also remember, shamefully now, hiding papers from school at the start of a new academic year that talked about free lunches. I didn’t want a free lunch. I knew the so unfair stereotype that went along with that privilege. No sir, not this girl. I made sure I took my lunch money to school every day so I could stand proudly in that cafeteria line — even if it meant that might have been with Mama’s last dollar in my pocket.

(Best cafeteria memory, by the way: I especially loved Fridays when my friend, Kathy Bee, gave me her Sloppy Joe. She didn’t like those things and I loved them. Still do, and have just discovered that my good friend, Marie, makes the best ever!) And, I loved the grilled cheese and tomato soup days. Still do, to that as well — and had the best of that recently, too, for my very special birthday that now permits me early shopping hours at the grocery store.

The irony of it all. But, I don’t need to get off the subject of how pride and humility need to be put in their places, at least for now.

I remember coming home from school on Mondays and knowing there would always soup beans, fried taters and cornbread for supper. Every Monday. I thought it was because my hard-to-please dad liked that stuff. And he did. But, I have also learned through the years that you can feed an army with that menu. And, what you don’t eat on Monday can become chili and potato cakes on Tuesday. And if you don’t eat it all on Tuesday, you can make a semblance of a shepherd’s pie with the leftovers on Wednesday.

By Thursday, you probably want to boil a chicken, take it off the bone (save the broth!!!) and either make dumplings or serve it with a can of green beans and a can of corn. On Friday, if you didn’t make dumplings, layer the leftovers in a baking dish, cover with a little biscuit dough, bake it for about 30 minutes and you’ve got a chicken pot pie. On Saturday, we ate those slimy cheap red hot dogs. There was usually a cabbage head for coleslaw, a little chopped onion and a can of chili in the cupboard; generic ketchup and mustard were inexpensive and always handy. Slice up a few potatoes from last year’s garden that had been stored in the basement — and you had homemade French fries.

Sundays were special days. Often, we had a canned ham for dinner (our mid-day meal after church), covered with pineapple, brown sugar and maraschino cherries, served with potato salad, peas and biscuits. And for dessert? Since you couldn’t use all the pineapple and brown sugar on the ham, the remainder was turned into a pineapple upside down cake, or vice versa.

And, ham was used for sandwiches for supper on Sunday evening and the dessert stayed around another day or two, while it lasted.

It’s times like these days in which we are living now that can easily take us on a trip down memory lane, to a time when life seemed much simpler — and we didn’t worry so much about our next meal.

Many families grew what they needed on the farm back in the day, kept cows for milk and butter, as well as for the beef itself, eventually, and then there were chickens and pigs that provided food for special occasions, as well as for day-to-day provisions, including eggs, fatback and sausage.

I saw a couple of Facebook posts recently that made me chuckle. But only for a second. One read: “How does anyone expect us to hunt for our food? I don’t even know where Doritos live?” and another one, “Who cares about farming? Everyone knows you can get what you need at the grocery store.”

Well, folks, I think we’ve come to a pivotal place in time that has caused us all to take pause and gain new perspective.

Less than two weeks ago, on March 15, 2020, I arrived at a startling realization on my 60th birthday, when all of a sudden, it seemed, things around us began spinning out of control. No church? No congregate gatherings? Schools and businesses began closing at rapid speed. And rumors were circulating quickly that really weren’t rumors anymore. America was in trouble. The world was in trouble. We’re still in trouble. How did it happen? What are we doing about it? What can we do about it?

We’re still looking for the answers to most of our questions. And things have continued to spin out of control. The headlines, the statistics, are changing almost daily.

Never in my lifetime have I worried about how many paper towels I use in a day’s time. (Not to mention other important paper products that have become a great topic of conversation recently, but since this is a cooking column, I will not mention TP!)

I could go on and on about what has changed in our world in the last 10 days, but I won’t. We know all about it. And, if we wanted to forget for just a few minutes, we couldn’t, anyway. The reminders are everywhere — and it’s affecting everyone.

I’ve yearned for a time to be sequestered at home, but I was hoping more for a big beautiful snowfall that would just slow us down for a few days, not a pandemic that would stop everything in its tracks for the foreseeable future. Still, amid the chaos, I have peace knowing who is in control, and thankful that I am not.

It is my prayer that we all stay healthy and happy as we adjust to our “new normal.” Let’s focus on the things that really matter. I believe there is a reason for all of this.

In the meantime, bring on the pintos and potatoes. And, it’s OK, strongly suggested, actually, to make extra and leave on your neighbor’s porch, or take some of that stuff you’ve been holding back to the local food pantry. The well-being of others might very well depend upon our generosity.

By the way, isn’t it wonderful how our school system rallied so quickly to make sure the kids are being fed? So many children depend on those school breakfasts, lunches and weekend backpacks.

Hopefully, what I shared above will give you an idea of the many ways we can stretch our food supply and make the staples in our homes last as long as they can, while also reaching out a helping hand to others.

Let’s try hard to make this a loving and learning experience. I believe we’ll come out stronger in the end and more appreciative as a whole. We’re all in this together!


Following are a few more tips that I hope will be helpful in the days to come.

  • Pizza on bagels, bread or English muffins

It’s just as easy as it sounds. Take a bagel, English muffin, or piece of bread, cover with the toppings you’d use on a pizza — pasta sauce, shredded mozzarella cheese and veggies of choice.

Bake in the oven or toaster oven for 7-8 minutes. Delicious and easy. And everyone can fix their own to suit their individual tastes!

  • Fried rice

Use left-over rice or prepare what you need for about 4 servings, or double recipe and other ingredients listed below as needed for your family. In a large frying pan or wok, brown a little garlic in a tablespoon or two of oil, then add one diced onion. When the onion softens, drop in two eggs and scramble them on one side of the pan. Turn up the heat and add other ingredients you have on hand — peas, corn, mushrooms, chopped broccoli, diced carrots, pineapple, or chunks of ham or chicken — along with your (cooked) rice, a spoonful of sugar, and up to a 1/4 cup of soy sauce. Cook on high heat for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Serve immediately.

  • Bean burritos

This recipe is both cheap and healthy. Start by chopping up your vegetables and toppings – lettuce, a tomato, onion, cilantro, etc. Heat a can of black beans or beans of choice on the stove. If desired, heat about 8 flour tortillas in a pan or just microwave each one for about 10 seconds. Lay each tortilla flat and spoon beans lightly through the center. Add chopped veggies, optional toppings such as cheese, rice and salsa. Wrap up and serve.

  • Homemade Mac n’ Cheese

Empty a 12-oz. box of pasta in a pot of boiling water on stovetop. In a separate pot, whisk together three cups of milk, 3 Tbsp. flour, about a teaspoon of salt and a little bit of sugar and pepper to taste.

Stir until mixture is just boiling, then lower heat and continue stirring as it thickens. Add 3 cups shredded cheese and mix until melted; pour cheese mixture over the pasta and mix gently until well covered.

Serve as is, or pour it all into a baking dish, cover with buttery bread crumbs and bake for about 20 minutes at 325. May add chunks of cooked ham for a hearty meat and mac casserole.

  • Three Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup peanut butter

1 cup sugar

1 egg

(No flour needed!)

Mix ingredients, shape into balls and place on lightly greased pan. Flatten with fork and make crisscross design, if desired. Or, simply drop dough by spoonful onto pan.

Bake at 350 for about 8 minutes, being careful not to overbake for chewy texture.