When I was first married, I didn’t know how to cook at all. I knew how to start meals because that was my job at home. Mom worked and I worked and if I wanted to eat before I went to work (and I have never voluntarily missed a meal) I needed to get supper started so we could eat very early and get me off to my 5-9 PM job.

So I could start any meal. Mom left directions, I started supper, she got home from work and finished supper, we ate, she took me to work.

Before getting married, I began a subscription to Betty Crocker cooking cards. I still have them. They were packages of recipe cards with the picture of the dish on the front and the recipe on the back. They were mostly very easy to prepare. I still use some and a couple are family favorites.

I can remember Dick coming home from work finding me in tears. I was sobbing and proclaimed (and I can still remember this fondly, embarrassingly, and hauntingly), “I can’t even boil water without a recipe.” Poor, pitiful, young me. I had rarely seen my mother use a recipe to make dinner. But here I was, night after night, not knowing what I was doing. And always, always, always, with a recipe in front of me.

Well, I’m older and older still now. I don’t know if I’m any wiser, but I sure am more efficient in the kitchen. I still love trying new recipes (when I feel like it) but I usually just toss things together and it turns into a meal. After all these years cooking, I don’t have to plan much. I open the refrigerator and the pantry and see what I have and I turn it into dinner.

On Monday, we had stew. But since most things are made with families in mind, there was enough meat in the package to feed a family of four or five, not just the two of us. So I added enough carrots and mushrooms and potatoes to make dinner for four and then we had stew again on Tuesday.

A bowl of soup. Not mine, but still a bowl of soup.

Yesterday, I took out a package of four chicken thighs. It cost under three dollars, but I don’t remember exactly what the price was. I was making chicken soup. I got home and put the chicken thighs, carrots, onions, salt, spices, and water on to boil. I got it going, turned it down to simmer and then played online for an hour. I took the chicken out to cool and then removed it from the bones. I also added some mushrooms to the mix.

Now this is where I’ve gotten smarter over the years. There used to be more chicken thighs in a package and I made an even larger pot of soup from it. It was still more than the four of us wanted to eat all at once. I used to take half the soup and freeze it. And the thawed out leftover soup was never very good.

It wasn’t all that good because noodles don’t really freeze and then thaw well. They turn doughy or pasty or something all gluten/flour/icky. The container was also very large in the freezer. I don’t remember when I was struck by a thunderbolt of inspiration and lucidity, but it finally dawned on me, I could freeze the “soup” before I finished it. Just before I put the noodles in, I take half the broth with meat and veggies, and put it in a container. I freeze that part.

This is what I did yesterday. I even was smart enough to take two of the chicken thighs and take the meat off them first, put that in my freezer container, add half the broth, and set it aside to cool while I finished the rest of the soup. I got the meat from the other two thighs, added that back to my broth, brought it to a boil, threw in the noodles, and finished the soup. We have enough soup for at least two more meals in the refrigerator and three meals in the freezer.

When I thaw the other half out, I can make chicken and rice soup, or add some potatoes to the noodles (something Mom used to do to make it stretch even farther) or just make good old fashioned chicken noodle soup again.

And I did this all without a recipe. BUT, I’m not sure how many other really helpful kitchen hints I haven’t thought of. What else am I doing the hard way? It is so hard to think of everything myself, especially since I tend to be such a routine person.

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