My favorite scene in the 1995 film Apollo 13 is when, in an effort to save the astronauts in the troubled spaceship, the team at Mission Control have a mountain of objects dumped on a table in front of them and are told, "This is what the astronauts have on board their ship. Use it to figure out how to fit this round tube into this square hole." The team didn't hesitate, didn't say it was impossible. They all just grabbed stuff in front of them and started experimenting with it. Lives were at stake, and it was up to them to save them.
While we may not find ourselves in such a dangerous situation, the lesson is still a valuable one in all areas of life. Use what you have. Make it work. With food prices soaring like a rocket and incomes nosediving, I like to apply this in my kitchen. I was raised to believe that throwing away food was one of the Seven Cardinal Sins, but with just a little ingenuity, you can keep yourself pretty much on the straight and narrow.
For example, one day I made what was meant to be a beautiful gelatin salad. No, not green Jell-O with fruit cocktail. This was orange Jell-O with fresh pineapple, pears, mandarin oranges, and pomegranate seeds. Primo stuff. Well, how was I to know that when you put fresh pineapple in your gelatin that it won't gel? (Canned pineapple works fine. It's only fresh that won't work.) So I had this very colorful and attractive liquid in the fridge and, well, we just didn't want to drink that. Out came the blender. I blended it smooth, then heated it up in a saucepan and added a little cornstarch mixed with water to thicken it. The resulting syrup was delicious over pancakes. A very sweet and tart concoction that my family loved and actually wanted me to make again.
Some other random ideas here: For goodness' sakes, don't ever throw out dry, stale bread. If it doesn't have green mold growing on it, it's still fine. Besides the usual French toast or bread pudding, it makes good stuffing for your chicken. If you crumble it up fine and toast it, you have crumbs for your meatloaf or for breading your chicken or pork chops. And you can make dang fine salad croutons by tossing bread cubes with oil, Parmesan cheese, garlic powder, and oregano, and toasting it in the oven. My family likes to eat those as a snack, even without salad. Hint: Leftover hamburger and hot dog buns make great croutons.
Somebody once gave me a large package of Ranch dressing mix, enough to make a gallon of dressing. Not sure how many years it would take us to use a gallon of Ranch dressing, but I discovered it makes a tasty flavoring for several things. I put some in the crockpot with chicken breasts and cream of chicken soup and served that over rice. It also made a yummy flavoring for homemade mashed potatoes.
Got bananas turning black? (They're probably still good inside, you know.) Mash them up and put them in your waffle or pancake batter. Or freeze them in chunks (do this with any fruits you have on hand) and blend them with milk and sugar, or yogurt and juice, for a refreshing smoothie.
And do you keep cornmeal on hand? If you don't, go get some and make some pioneer-era cornmeal mush. Mix one cup of cornmeal with one cup of cold water. Add this, along with one teaspoon of salt, to three cups of boiling water. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 20-30 minutes, then pour into a greased loaf pan and refrigerate overnight. Turn it out onto a plate and used a greased knife to cut it into ¾-inch-thick slices. Fry on both sides in butter and serve with maple syrup for the cheapest breakfast on the planet, and one of my most favorites. Creativity in the kitchen these days isn't just a necessity; it can be fun!
Shelly Davis is the author of western novel Eagle Shadow and its sequel Eagle Rising and the owner of Eagle Eye Edits & Critiques. Visit her at http://shellydavisbooks.com/