The Ottumwa Courier

September 22, 2006

Bowersox serving up the food at Bloomfield Senior Center

BY HELEN HANNAN, COURIER CORRESPONDENT

BLOOMFIELD — Sherlyn Bowersox, better known as Sher, loves to cook and to feed people. She gets to do both as cook at the Bloomfield Senior Center, a job she has enjoyed for the past 18 months or so.

Relatively new to the community, she came to Bloomfield from Galesburg, Ill., when she married Ira Bowersox. A bubbly energetic lady, she was soon looking for a job.

“I applied at a lot of places, and had about given up finding a job when the Senior Center called asking did I still want the job,” Bowersox said. “I said yes! They (people who come regularly) are my family now.”

It’s a family she enthusiastically joins for afternoon card games, helps to entertain with Karaoke or by playing the organ for sing alongs or helps with the annual bake sale fund raiser.

“I have been cooking since I was six years old,” she said. “My grandma taught me,” beginning with scrambled eggs and French toast. “I have always liked to cook.”

That’s a good thing. The oldest girl in her family, she “had to cook for my brothers and sister because my mother worked,” she said. Her siblings include three older brothers, a younger sister and brother.

“I like to feed people as long as there is food in the house,” she said as she deftly slid a dish of Cherry Gobble-up into the oven. That was easy to believe. Within minutes of arriving for this interview I, along with her husband, were chowing down on fresh from the oven zucchini bread and coffee.

“You can always add some green beans [to the menu] or put more potatoes in the pot. Doesn’t hurt if there are three or four different vegetables” in a meal to help stretch it; a trick she must have learned from Grandma.

“I always envied both of my grandmas. No matter how much unexpected company showed up they could put a meal on the table.”

She washed up the utensils used in preparing the dessert, before continuing with the next recipe, commenting that “Grandma always said a messy cook is a good cook; but I clean as I go,” never letting clutter accumulate in her immaculate kitchen.

She enjoys collecting and reading cook books; also creating new recipes. “I like to take this from one recipe that looks good and that from another, for something new,” such as her own tasty Italian flavored version of colorful stir fry, Flavorful Garden Mix’.

She shared one of Grandma’s time saving secrets as she combined the stir fry ingredients.

“Grandma taught me how to measure in the palm of my hand,” she said. She shook a little crushed parsley into the cupped palm of her hand before dumping it into the vegetable mixture. “That’s about a teaspoon. Comes out about right every time if you measure” (with a measuring spoon.) And “this is about 1/2 teaspoon” she said, showing a smaller amount of a different herb in her cupped palm.

Bowersox is quick, efficient and can improvise if need be. As the only cook at the Senior Center, she cooks and serves an average of 36 meals per day. Then there is the unexpected, like 78 patrons on Valentine’s Day. She was by herself, but managed.

“People are requested to make reservations the day ahead, but not many do,” she said. She understands that often “they don’t know how they will feel the next day. Maybe they won’t feel like coming.”

She also cooks the home delivered meals. There is no need for anyone to go without a hot, balanced meal on weekends when the center isn’t open, because they make frozen meals, too. Sealed in a cardboard container, they resemble a T.V. dinner.

“We try to help the home bound as much as possible,” she said.

Bowersox mentioned one regular customer who lives in the country. “The housekeeper picks up seven frozen meals, twice a month.”

She plans to be cooking for the patrons in Pulaski as well when the senior center becomes an eating site.

In less time than thought possible, and while keeping up lively chatter, she cooked and served an eye appealing, delectable, filling meal of baked pork cutlet, bread stuffing spiked with garden fresh veggies, pan gravy, flavorful garden mix — a combination of vegetables in season — and cherry gobble-up cake for dessert.



BAKED PORK CUTLET

4 medium sized pork cutlets

1 egg

1/2 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 1/2 cups flour

Spray baking dish with Crisco oil.

Mix egg, milk, salt, pepper in a bowl.

Put flour in another bowl. Dip pork cutlets in egg mixture then roll in flour mixture then place in baking dish. Spray top of cutlets with Crisco oil and place in 400 degree oven. Bake 30 minutes on one side, turn over and bake 30 minutes on other side. Serve with scoop of bread stuffing drizzled with pan gravy.



PAN GRAVY

2 Tablespoonsmargarine or butter

2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup chicken broth

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

Melt margarine in 1 1/2 quart saucepan over low heat. Stir in flour. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until mixture is smooth and bubbly. Remove from heat. Gradually stir in broth. Return to burner and heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute. Stir in salt and pepper.



BREAD STUFFING

3/4 cup butter

2 large celery stalks (with leaves), chopped (1 cup)

2 chopped carrots (1/2 cup)

3/4 cup chopped onion

9 cups soft bread cubes

1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)

2 eggs

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground sage

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Melt butter in Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook celery, carrots and onion in butter, stirring occasionally until tender; remove from heat. Toss celery mixture and remaining ingredients. Place in baking dish and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. If you don’t have all the herbs, just use Italian seasoning. “That’s about all this is,” Bowersox said.



 FLAVORFUL GARDEN MIX

(Use vegetables in season in late summer)

2 medium yellow squash, sliced

1 medium zucchini, sliced

1 medium red onion, sliced and separated into rings

1/2 pound fresh green beans, trimmed

5 strips red pepper

1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes

1 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon salt

In a large nonstick skillet sauté the squash, onion, zucchini, green beans and mushrooms in oil until crisp-tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in parsley, basil, oregano, thyme and salt. Remove from heat. Servings for 6.



ZUCCHINI BREAD

3 cups flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon soda

2 cups unpeeled zucchini

1 cup nuts

1 cup raisins

3 eggs

1 cup vegetable oil

Mix sugar and eggs. Add cinnamon, salt and soda and mix well, then add flour, zucchini and oil. Fold in nuts and raisins last. Bake at 325 degrees for one hour.