Heavenly Manna

Christmas is a time when most people embrace the joy of giving. However, Shelia Smith, the amazing cook at downtown’s Government Street Presbyterian Church, exudes that spirit all year long. Every weekday, Smith rises early and singlehandedly cooks breakfast for more than 100 hungry and homeless people for Coffee Club. Then, she packs lunches for approximately 50 shut-ins for GSPC’s Meals on Wheels program. That’s a short day. On longer days, she may also make hot meals for the church’s Thursday noon forums, and sometimes she prepares a church dinner afterwards. On Sundays, she often arrives to cook for large congregational functions. Spare time is spent grocery shopping for upcoming meals and for small catering jobs she takes on the side. The miracle is that she never seems to tire. “I hit the floor at 4:30 a.m., and I have no set time I go to bed, ” Smith says. “Sometimes it’s midnight, but I’ve done it so long that it’s just something that comes natural. I guess it’s the Lord that gives me all that energy.”

Smith started out working in the church’s nursery, but then parlayed her services into working in the kitchen because they needed the help. That was nearly 30 years ago, and at the time, she had never done much cooking. “At first I was nervous because I didn’t know how to cook for a big ol’ crowd of people, but I learned real quick, ” she says.

Now she prepares huge quantities in a remarkably efficient, yet relaxed manner. Every morning, at Coffee Club, each guest receives a warm smile, along with grits, eggs, fruit, bread, coffee and a vitamin. On an average day, Smith cooks 150 eggs, stirs up 7 to 10 pounds of grits, and makes 200 cups of coffee. While often it can be difficult to determine exactly how many to plan for, “if I look out and see the line wrapped around the room, I just put on some more grits.” And as in the Bible story of the loaves and fishes, the food rarely runs out. But, Smith laughs, she can remember it happening one time at a church lunch. “We were having ham, and the crowd was bigger than we had anticipated so a church member had to go up the street and get some Popeyes fried chicken.”

Smith is beloved by many. “I have never met a kinder soul than Shelia, ” says Dr. George Sinclair, the minister at GSPC. “My life and the lives of literally hundreds of others have been blessed by her. She is an example of faith.”

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Lisa Goodloe, a former coworker agrees, “She’s just a saint. She never complains, and she always keeps that smile.”

Smith says she is simply answering her calling. “I try to lift people up. Cooking is what I love to do. It’s a hard job, a huge job, but God put me here to do this.”

Shelia’s Shepherd’s Pie

This hearty dish is a favorite at GSPC for both forum lunches and church gatherings. It makes a splendid, savory meal.

1 pound ground beef
3 – 4 carrots, peeled and grated
1 large onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and grated
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 teaspoon parsley flakes
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 – 4 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 (16-ounce) can beef broth
4 cups mashed potatoes
3 – 4 cups grated cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cook ground beef until browned. Drain off grease.
3. Put into a pot, along with carrots, onion, garlic, tomato paste, parsley flakes, thyme, bay leaves, sage and beef broth.
4. Cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes.
5. Spread mixture into a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish.
6. Top with mashed potatoes to cover. Then sprinkle cheese on top.
7. Bake for about 30 – 40 minutes. Serves 8 – 12.

Ultimate Macaroni and Cheese

Shelia’s ultra gooey macaroni and cheese is comfort food at its finest. It is one of her most requested recipes.

1 cup dry elbow macaroni
1 stick butter
3 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese, divided
1 (16-ounce) jar Cheesy Ragu Double Cheddar Sauce
4 eggs
3 cups milk
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a pot of boiling salted water, cook macaroni according to package directions, until tender. Drain water from pasta. Mix hot macaroni with butter, 3 cups grated cheddar and cheese sauce.
3. In a bowl, beat eggs; add milk and salt and pepper. Stir egg mixture into macaroni mixture. Pour into a well-greased 9-by-13-inch casserole dish. Sprinkle with additional 1/2 cup of cheese. Bake for 1 hour. Serves 8 – 10.

Sour Cream Biscuits

These biscuits are so buttery good that they are addictive. The simple yet sensational recipe always reaps rave reviews.

1 cup butter
2 cups sifted self-rising flour
1 cup sour cream

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Cut the butter into the flour using a pastry blender or two knives. Mix in sour cream.
3. Drop mixture from tablespoon onto greased muffin tin.
4. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes. Serve hot or freeze and reheat before serving. Makes 1 dozen large or 2 dozen small biscuits.

Temptation Squares

These lush, rich squares are both chocolaty and creamy. They make a marvelous pick-up dessert for the holidays.

1 package devil’s food cake mix (Shelia prefers Duncan Hines.)
1 egg
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 (1-pound) box confectioners’ sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Mix together the cake mix, egg and melted butter.
3. Pack into a 9-by-13-inch greased pan.
4. Beat together cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, eggs and vanilla. Spread on top of cake batter. Bake for 45 minutes. Makes approximately 2 dozen squares.

text and styling by sallye irvine • photos by Todd Douglas

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