Helpful advise for the kitchen offered-but you’ll need a pen

At exactly 3:05 p.m. on a recent afternoon, for no good reason, I found a pen beside the phone.

“What is this!” I shouted.  Looking at it in disbelief, I dropped everything and ran into the living room to express my excitement to the family.  Nothing much happened, a shrugged shoulder, a yawn, “When’s dinner?” was heard.  They just didn’t get it.

The plain and simple truth is that I have spent years taking phone messages and knocks at the front door for payment to the paper boy, Girl Scout cookies, the school drive wrapping paper fund, with only the writing utensils found in the house: crayons, pencils with no lead, yellow highlighters, chalk, eyebrow pencils, scented felt pens with collapsed tips, but never a pen.

Come to think of it, I can’t remember when I ever had a pen when I needed it…

“Your order please.”

“Yes. We will have a Happy Hamburger and…What? What do you mean it has to have ketchup and pickles only,” I lamented to my preschooler in the back seat of our mini-van.  “Last time you liked cheese.”

“I hate cheese,” she bellowed.  “Ketchup and pickles only!  Ketchup and pickles only!” chanted her three other friends in the car.  Now thumping their feet to the beat.

“Your order pleassse.”

“OK. OK. OK. We will have…”

“That will be $13.76. Please pay at the next window.”

I never have cash.  Not even pennies in my pocket.  Two reasons. Number one: If the kids I haul around hear that jingle they beg unmercifully.  If they see change in the ashtray they become animals and if they get their hands on it prying them away from gum, toy, and pop machines becomes well, you don’t want to know.  Number two: I write a check for everything and of course you need a pen.  I’m just thankful I have carbon checks.

We were inching our way closer to the window as I desperately searched for a pen in the car.  The car my husband specifically said, when it was new, we would never eat in.  I buried my hand in between the seats coming up with juice straws, sunflower seed shells, an overdue library book, but…no pen.

Anticipating the rolled eyes I would get from the cashier at the window when I asked for a pen, I braked and ordered everyone to put their heads down and look.

As I glanced under the car seat at the spilled coffee stains and candy wrappers, I thought of my husband who had recently rolled the van (I can’t eat in it, but he can dent it!)  He said that the accident was not bad, the really scary part was all the barreling lunchboxes and the stretched out arms and legs of Barbie dolls flying at him like scud missiles.

In the back seat squeezed in between the children was the dry-cleaning bag, the used clothes for the consignment shop (that had sat in the car so long it had its own permanent seat), the milk bottles, the post office parcel, and everything else for our day in the car errands.  Each stop would need a pen.

After taking the silent abuse from the cashier, I assertively explained to her my plight.  “Could I be as bold as to ask you for your pen?”  She just looked deep into my eyes and let me know that there was a speed car racer pen in the Happybox. “You flip the headlights back and write,” she growled, then threw back her head and laughed.  Relieved, I went to our next stop only to have the pen run out of ink.

I had had it with my family.  I left the living room to go look at the pen beside the phone.  Naturally, it was gone.  I didn’t even flinch.

Now write this information down (with whatever you’ve got) because here are a few excellent food tips to better your day:

*Cornstarch is a tried-and-true “secret ingredient” that’s right in your cupboard.  It makes glossy gravies, satiny sauces and delicately firm cream-pie fillings and puddings. This easy-to-use thickening agent is made from corn, and is an economical substitute for flour.

*Use celery tops as a basting brush.  Eliminates brush washing.  Nature’s baster.

*Serve tea with an orange wedge instead of lemon.  Orange adds a tangy natural sweetness.

*In its original container, butter can be kept in the freezer.

*Instead of adding milk when mashing potatoes, add the hot cooking liquid the potatoes were cooked in and save calories.

*For uniformly sliced mushrooms use an egg slicer instead of a knive.

*For soft biscuits, bake close.  Firm biscuits, bake inches apart

(Shanna enjoys sharing her stories and recipe ideas with readers. Her column appears the first and third weeks of each month.)