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Making Do 

or Repurposing Things on Hand

“Motherhood is the necessity of invention,” I told my daughter and granddaughter the other evening. They laughed and corrected me with: “Necessity is the mother of invention.” I’m always messing up quotes, but I think in this case both ways fit. The fact is that some of the most creative people you would ever meet are folks with very limited incomes or those that don’t have easy access to things, although today's technology makes it way too easy to spend money ordering online and having most anything delivered to our doorsteps. That used to not be the case, though.


In the mid-1960s, my family lived at Salt Flat, Texas, which was 20 miles from the nearest school and churches in Dell City, and 90 miles from the nearest doctors, dentists, and sufficient grocery and other types of stores in El Paso. My parents became experts at making do with what was on hand. The once- or twice-a-month trips to the grocery store meant stocking up on plenty of canned goods as well as bread, meat, and milk, which were frozen until needed. Mom stretched meat further in meals by combining it with a lot of pasta, potatoes, rice, and other vegetables for our family of six. Picky eaters we were not. Later in life she liked to tell us and everyone else that she had to knock us away from the table when we were young. Dad learned to repair just about anything since we were so isolated, and I’m sure he learned by trial and error or from others who had learned to do the same. 


Making do can also involve hand-me-downs and secondhand items. Looking around my house, most of the furniture and decorative things I see would fall under that category. They have saved me a lot of money over the years, but they’ve also filled up my house to the point it is too cluttered. I’m still working on remedying that, though.


Over the years, I’ve enjoyed the challenge of creatively making do or coming up with solutions with whatever I had on hand or using less expensive substitutes. The following gallery includes a few ways I’ve done this around our house, along with other creative examples that friends and family shared with me. 

Double-click the big picture to open up captions. Note: This is best viewed on larger devices.

One of the "make do" recipes my mother used a lot when we lived in West Texas was for a chocolate mayonnaise cake. The recipe didn't require eggs or oil because the mayo made up for those ingredients, and it didn't require milk. So she usually had the ingredients on hand for this rich, moist chocolate cake. This is one of my go-to recipes for a potluck dinner or dessert, and I've shared my favorite making do recipe with many women.


                                                                     Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake



                      2 c. flour                              4 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa       1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

                    1 1/2 tsp. baking soda           1 1/4 c. water                           1 c. mayonnaise

                    1 c. sugar                              2 tsp. vanilla

                    Mix dry ingredients; then add water, mayo & vanilla. Mix well. Bake at 350 degrees

                    for 30 or 40 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.


                    3 c. powdered sugar              1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa.        1 stick butter, softened

                    1 tsp. vanilla                          3-4 tbsp. milk 

                   Soften or melt butter and mix with cocoa and vanilla in a deep mixing bowl. Gradually

                   add powdered sugar and beat with a mixer until creamy and fluffy. Add milk until it's

                   the right consistency. Ice the cake after it's cooled.

This wasn't the same icing recipe Mom used with her mayo cake, but I can't seem to make her icing like she made it, so I substituted a really good, no-fail butter cream icing. I'm sure I'm not alone in this, but I can make the same dishes my mother made using her recipes, but they never tasted as good as when she made them.





Donna Van Cleve

October 2020


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