The phrase “Use your noodle!” is another way of saying, “make use of your intelligence!”  My parents instilled in me the idea that there are many ways to get things accomplished.  Sometimes all it takes is a little brainpower.

Both Dad and Mom were experts at solving “how-am-I-going-to-do-this” problems.  Their methods may have been unconventional; however, they usually worked – at least temporarily.  My late husband was another great problem solver, and the two of us worked together on many projects.  Our creative abilities were often put to the test as we tossed ideas back and forth before arriving at a solution.

One thing my parents loved to create was fun for their children.  Sometimes it was educational; at other times, it was a way to enjoy a time of laughter with their offspring.  The four girls at our house had our beds in the living room after my brothers were born, two girls to a bed.  My dad’s recliner sat in one corner of the room, with bookshelves on either side of it and a floor lamp behind it.  In the center of one side of the room, there was a fireplace, and my mom’s sewing machine sat in front of it.   Our beds were in the opposite corner from Dad’s chair, with the heads of them put together to form an “L” shape.

One night we were in bed and just about asleep when the lamp by Dad’s chair turned itself on.  After a few seconds, it went back off.  A few minutes later, it came back on again.  By this time, we were wide awake.  The lamp went back off.  We started giggling.  My dad came down the hall to see what was going on.  He “checked out” the lamp, told us there was nothing wrong with it, and to be quiet and go to sleep.  Then he went back to bed.  The lamp came back on, and the laughter grew even louder.  We could hear Dad coming back down the hall, but before he got there, the light went out again.  This process repeated itself a couple more times.  Dad finally told us to get settled down and go to sleep.  Enough was enough.  The lamp did not come on again.

A few nights later, just when we reached the point of dozing off, my mom’s sewing machine started running.  It ran for several seconds and then shut off.   We were instantly awake, having been primed by the prior lamp incident.  Sure enough, we waited a couple of minutes, and the sewing machine started running again.  We decided that this time we would go and get Dad and tell him what was going on before he came to see.  He came in and checked out the situation, and then left after informing us that sewing machines do not run by themselves.  After he got back to bed, the machine came on again, ran for a bit, and turned off.  My sisters and I were laughing so hard by this time that tears were streaming down our faces.  Then we got really curious.  It finally dawned on us that maybe we should check things out for ourselves.  When we did, we discovered that the machine was plugged into another plug, which had a wire leading out of it.  We followed the wire; it went into Mom and Dad’s bedroom.   The cord had an on/off switch on the other end.  Mom’s sewing machine had a chair sitting next to it propped up against the knee pedal, which allowed the machine to run when Mom turned on the switch.   She and Dad were having a hard time not letting us hear THEM laughing!

It took quite a bit of thought for my parents to concoct and coordinate such a scheme.  They really had to “use their noodles.”   Now for a way for each of us to use ours: recipes!  March is National Noodle Month, so it is especially appropriate.  All of these have been tested and approved in the Ray household.

Crunchy Turkey Casserole

2 (10-3/4 ounce) cans cream of celery soup, undiluted (may use mushroom)

1/2 cup milk or chicken broth

4 cups cubed, cooked turkey (or chicken)

2 celery ribs, thinly sliced

1 small onion, chopped

1 (8-ounce) can sliced water chestnuts, drained and halved

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2-1/2 to 3 cups chow mein noodles

1/2 cup slivered almonds (optional)

In large bowl, combine soup and milk.  Stir in turkey, celery, onion, water chestnuts, and soy sauce.  Transfer to a greased 2-quart baking dish.  Sprinkle with noodles and almonds (if desired).  Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until heated through. 

Yield: 6-8 servings.

Ham & Noodle Casserole

1 cup sour cream

1 (10-3/4-ounce) cream of celery soup, undiluted

1 cup milk

1 cup water

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

4 cups uncooked wide egg noodles

1 (10 to 16-ounce) bag frozen Italian green beans

2 cups chopped cooked ham

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder OR 2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup fine dry bread crumbs

1 cup grated Swiss cheese OR 8 slices Swiss cheese

Combine sour cream, soup, milk, water, salt and pepper in large bowl.  Stir in noodles, green beans, ham, and garlic.  Spoon into greased 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking dish.  Sprinkle with bread crumbs and top with cheese.  Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 10 minutes.  Uncover and bake 10 additional minutes.

Crusted Tilapia Florentine

1 egg

2 teaspoons water

1 cup Italian-seasoned bread crumbs

4 tilapia filets (about 1 pound), thawed if frozen

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups Italian sauce

10-ounce package frozen spinach, thawed and well-drained

2 heaping cups medium egg noodles, cooked and drained (measure before cooking)

Beat egg and water in a shallow dish with a fork or whisk.  Place bread crumbs onto a plate.  Dip fish into egg mixture.  Coat with bread crumbs.

Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat.  Add fish; cook for 10 minutes or until well-browned and flakes easily when tested with fork.  Remove fish from skillet and keep warm.

Stir sauce and spinach in the skillet and cook until hot and bubbling, stirring occasionally. Serve sauce with fish and noodles. Makes 4 servings.

Lemony Chicken Noodle Soup

1 small onion, chopped

1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

1 tablespoon butter or margarine

1 boneless, skinless chicken breast or 3 chicken tenders, cubed

1 garlic clove, minced

4 cups chicken broth (or 2 regular-size cans)

1 medium carrot, cut into 1/4-inch slices (I used 8 baby carrots, sliced)

1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 cups uncooked medium egg noodles

1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice (I used 2)

In a small saucepan, sauté onion in oil and butter until tender.  Add chicken and garlic.  Cook and stir until chicken is lightly browned.  Stir in the broth, carrot, peas, and seasonings.  Bring to a boil. 

Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 5 minutes.  Add the noodles.  Cover and simmer for 8-10 minutes or until noodles are tender.  Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice.