Meal time together important for Cathcart family

Jerilyn VanDeWoestyne
Sue Cathcart of Geneseo enjoys cooking for her family.

Her family is definitely what is most important to Sue Cathcart of Geneseo and since she is currently a stay-at-home mom, she appreciates the fact that she can be there for them. She loves to cook and said she actually enjoys putting meals together. “My favorite part of cooking is sitting down with my family for a meal,” she said. “And they always say ‘thanks, Mom.’ That means a lot.”

Sue and her husband, Lance, have been married 22 years and their family includes children, Tricia, 19, a freshman at DePaul University, Chicago; Molly, a senior at Geneseo High School; West, a sophomore at Geneseo High School, and Haley, a freshman at Geneseo High School.

Her husband works at John Deere and Sue feels very fortunate to be able to be at home with her kids. “Financially, it would probably be nice if I worked outside of the home, but we feel the trade-off is worth it,” she said. “And I love being here for the kids. We might not be rich monetarily, but we are rich with family and are blessed with a happy, healthy family.”

One of the things Sue feels strongly about is that her family sit down for their evening meal together as much as possible. “Sometimes it’s not easy with everyone’s sports schedules and school activities, but we try to have our meals when most of us can be here,” she said, adding 6 p.m. is usually dinner time at the Cathcarts.

Sue said when she and her husband were married, they decided eating together in the evening was something that was important to them. “We have always tried to keep that schedule,” she said.

Favorite family meals include things like spaghetti, hamburgers, pulled pork or Italian beef or pizza. One of their most asked-for meals is chili-mac that Sue said brings back wonderful memories of her mother. “The chili recipe is from my mother, who passed away fairly young, and whenever I make that it reminds me of her,” she said. “When you put the chili over homemade macaroni and cheese, it makes great chili-mac.”

Growing up in Hinsdale, a suburb of Chicago, Sue said she worked in downtown Chicago for a while. “I remember thinking Moline was probably one  big farm,” she laughs. “When we first moved to this area, though, we farmed with Lance’s uncle on the Cambridge blacktop for several years.”

Sue recalls that first summer they farmed they had bred sows and her job was to learn how to care for the piglets, clipping teeth and tails and giving them shots. “It was kind of like ‘Hogs 101,’” she laughs. “I never expected to have fun farming, but we did. It was a great experience and I grew up fast.” Sue said her oldest child actually broke her arm when she fell from the “cow” she was going for a ride on.

Since she was a Pampered Chef demonstrator for a while, Sue said she learned a lot about cooking and preparing meals from that experience, and also got some really good recipes. “I got lots of great recipes and I had all the tools,” she said. “I was actually the No. 3 seller in Illinois in my first six months.” She said she still uses those Pampered Chef products. “I have all the stones for baking, including the jelly roll pan and a 9x13” pan,” she said. “You never have to use a cooking spray on those stones. They are wonderful to use. I don’t think there is a meal that goes by that I don’t use at least one cookware item from Pampered Chef.”

One of her favorite Pampered Chef products is the chopper. “If you’re making something that calls for chopped onions,  it is so easy to just chop the onions with the chopper, then throw it in the dishwasher,” she said, adding it would be an expensive investment to purchase all the Pampered Chef items at once, but she earned the pieces as she went along.

Sue said she began cooking when she and her husband started a family. “I really didn’t know much about cooking when we were first married, but I enjoyed it and learned as I went,” she said. “My cooking has definitely changed through the years — when I first started cooking it was kind of like a comedy of errors.”

She laughs when recalling a birthday dinner she prepared for her husband one year. “Someone had told me you could put a beef roast directly on the grill,” she said. “But they said to leave it and don’t look at it. Well, I did that and when it was time to eat, that roast had flames on it. It was like one big chunk of coal.” Her husband was a “real trooper” however, eating the roast and telling Sue he really liked the charcoal flavor.

“I do like the challenge of cooking and I’m still learning,” she said.

Besides cooking, one of Sue’s favorite hobbies is scrapbooking. “Because I lost my mother at a young age, I’ve been making documentaries of my kids’ lives and putting together scrapbooks for them so they will always know what their childhood was like,” she said, adding each child has two scrapbooks. “I always thought I would quit after they graduated from high school, but I just can’t stop.”

“I have a magnet that is my mantra, it says, ‘If it’s not in a scrapbook, it didn’t happen,’,” she laughs.

She adds she was answering her own questions about herself when she began scrapbooking as a way to chronicle the lives of her children. “I want them to know how much we love them, from my perspective, and how important they are to us,” she said.

Since she likes doing “goofy things” with food, Sue said she remembers making things like dinosaur eggs using vanilla pudding or, when she had to take treats to her son’s fifth-grade class she made a “meat loaf” from chocolate Cocoa Krispies. “I go on line to and get great ideas,” she said.

 “The Cocoa Krispies meatloaf was made like a Rice Krispie treat, but it was formed to look like a meatloaf and it really did.” When Sue placed the “meatloaf” on a platter and surrounded it with Starburst shaped green beans, she said the result was very realistic. “West was mortified when I came into his classroom with a meatloaf and green bean treat, but everyone else loved it,” she

laughed. “It’s great fun to do things like that.”

April Fools Day is a big day at the Cathcart’s according to Sue. “They all just wonder what I’m going to do with the food.”

She has made “bacon and eggs” by placing two stick pretzels on a plate and pouring melted almond bark on top to look like an egg white. “Then you put a yellow M&M upside down in the center of the white to look like an egg yolk. It’s not terribly realistic-looking, but it’s fun,” she said.

Holidays are important occasions at the Cathcart’s. “For Thanksgiving we usually have turkey, stuffing, potatoes and all the trimmings and we usually have ham for Christmas,” she said. “And St. Patrick’s Day I always have corned beef and cabbage. I even put green food coloring in a pitcher of beer so we can have green beer.” Sue explains she is Irish and German and her husband is of German and Swedish descent.

When decorating for the Christmas holiday, Sue said she has a Christmas tree in every room. “Every kid has a tree in their room and we even have trees in the bathrooms,” she laughs.

Sue said she has “completely stopped” buying snack foods for her family, rather she makes desserts regularly. “I would buy the snacks and they would be gone by the next day,” she said.

“So now I maybe put a pie in the oven in the afternoon, or make brownies or maybe a quick cheesecake, just some kind of dessert.”

She said she keeps the bins in her refrigerator full of things like apples or celery for the kids to snack on along with lots of other fruits and vegetables. “They don’t drink much pop but we do go through a lot of milk,” Sue said, adding her “vice” is diet Pepsi.

She is proud of the fact that after 19 years, all of her children are “cavity-free. “I really credit their love of milk for that,” she said. “And comparatively, milk is really cheaper than all of that pop.”

Presentation is important to Sue in that she likes a meal to look nice. “I pretty much use the same platters and bowls and the kids usually set the table,” she said. “Dinner is important to us and I don’t like to put the food on the table in the pan it was prepared in. I don’t like that at all. Dinner is a special time and about the only time we’re all home together.”

Memorable occasions are celebrated by the use of a certain plate that has a permanent home on a kitchen shelf in the Cathcart kitchen. “I have a special plate that Lance got me when we were first married,” Sue said. “It has become our celebration plate. When it’s their birthday each child uses that plate for all three meals. Or when they maybe have a great report card, their treat is to eat from the special plate.” Sue adds the plate gets hand washed and replaced on the shelf for the next special celebration. “It’s those extra things that mean a lot to us,” she said.

Since she cooks every day, Sue said she tries to plan menus a week at a time. “I try to do my grocery shopping once a week,” she said, adding she is definitely a recipe-follower. “I get the recipe out even when I’m making something like the chili that I have made many times. I just like to make sure I have the right ingredients.”

Family is very important to Sue. “We always wanted a big family. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,” she said. “I went to college for a while, but what I’ve always wanted to do is be a mom. And I’m enjoying every minute of it. We have fun and time goes by so quickly.”

Sue Cathcart shares some of her favorite recipes.

Mom’s chili

Sue Cathcart

2-3 lbs. ground beef

2 T. vinegar

16 oz. tomato sauce

2-16 oz. cans kidney/chili beans

1-16 oz. can stewed tomatoes

1/2 C. chopped onion

2-3 T. chili powder

Brown and drain ground beef. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 1/2 hour.

Serve with homemade macaroni and cheese for chili mac.

Homemade mac-n-cheese

Sue Cathcart

1/2 box elbow macaroni

1/2 of large Velveeta cheese, cubed

1/2 stick butter

2 t. sour cream

1/2 C. milk

Boil and drain macaroni.

Combine remaining ingredients in crock pot on high, stirring occasionally until melted.

Mix with chili for chili-mac.

Pumpkin bars

Sue Cathcart

2 C. flour

2 t. soda

1/2 t. salt

1 t. cinnamon

4 eggs, beaten

2 C. canned pumpkin

2 C. sugar

1 C. vegetable oil

1 C. nuts (optional)


8 oz. cream cheese

1-1/2 sticks butter

2 T. milk

2 t. vanilla

3-1/2 C. powdered sugar

Mix all bar ingredients together and bake 25 minutes at 350 degrees (until brown).

Prepare frosting while bars are baking.

Cool and frost.

Snicker cake

Sue Cathcart

1 pkg. German chocolate cake mix

1 pkg. Kraft caramels

1 stick butter

1 C. chopped pecans

1/3 C. milk

3/4 C. chocolate chips

Mix cake mix per instructions. Pour 1/2 batter into greased 9x13” pan. Bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Melt caramels, butter and milk, stirring until thoroughly combined.

Pour over baked cake.

Sprinkle with chocolate chips and nuts.

Dot remaining cake batter over top.

Bake another 20 minutes at 250 degrees, then 10 minutes at 350 degrees.