By KARA EBERLE
As the hamburger browned in a pan on the stove, I rummaged through my cupboards, searching for the can of Manwich I knew was there.
Seven people were waiting to eat lunch, and I planned on serving Sloppy Joes.
I had the buns. I had the meat. And I was sure I had the all-important final ingredient. (As you might have guessed, I’m not exactly Rachael Ray in the kitchen.)
I could hear my mother’s voice in the back of my head: “Make sure you have all the ingredients before you start cooking. You don’t want to get halfway through a recipe and realize you don’t have an important ingredient.”
How right she was.
After triple checking each can in the house, it was clear I didn’t have Manwich. As I considered what else I could do with the hamburger, my friend, Jodi Micsky, stepped in.
“Do you have ketchup, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, some onion and a pepper?” she asked. She was one of the hungry people waiting to eat. Her daughters — Allyssa, 6, and Abigail, almost 2 — and her husband, Matt, also had grumbling bellies.
A quick check revealed that I had everything but the pepper. She said she could work with that.
I watched as she squeezed the ketchup into the hamburger, sprinkled the brown sugar on top, squirted in the Worcestershire sauce and mixed it all up. (She didn’t use a recipe; she just added ingredients to taste.) Before long, the concoction looked like Sloppy Joe.
I was impressed. It tasted better than Manwich. And when we fed it to our girls — including my oh-so-finicky 4-year-old Mara — they scarfed down the sandwiches.
A potential crisis was averted, and I learned something, too.
I’m always learning from other moms, and I love sharing their tricks and tips.
A mom I met through day care (thanks Jayme!) recently told me about www.kidsbowlfree.com, a site where, you guessed it, parents can sign up kids for a free summer of bowling at participating centers (several places in southcentral Pennsylvania are on the list).
Several people told me to check out the Hands-On House in Lancaster, and I wasn’t disappointed when Jodi and I took our girls to the children’s museum. It costs $7 per person, which is far cheaper than paying $30-plus to get into an amusement park. Plus, it was educational.
I’ve also stumbled onto these tricks during my nearly five years as a mom. Savvy mothers might already know about these, but in case you don’t:
* If your child is shorter than 40 inches tall, he or she can get a free baby cone at Bruster’s.
* Regal 13 at the West Manchester Mall holds a Free Family Film Festival each summer. It starts this year with “Adventures of Pippi Longstocking” and “Open Season” on June 15 and 16. Check www.flipsidepa.com for more movie listings.
* If you order a kids’ meal for lunch, you’ll eat less, and you’ll get a toy to stow away and use as a “surprise” for your kids later.
* Wendy’s will give you a free cup of hot water that you can use to warm up a bottle while on the road.
I continue to learn as my kids grow. I read tons of parenting websites, magazines and books. I ask other mothers lots questions. I try not to repeat my mistakes.
It’s all part of my ongoing education in motherhood.
Kara Eberle is editor of Smart. Sign up for a free subscription to the magazine at www.smartmamapa.com/subscribe.
Do you have a smart tip?
What’s the product you can’t live without? What’s your favorite kid-friendly restaurant? What’s the easiest recipe you know? Where do you take your family for a cheap day out? How do you get your picky toddler to eat?
Share your tricks with me at email@example.com, and I’ll share them with the readers of Smart.